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    Dairy farmers on Cyprus refer to halloumi as “white gold.” The salty, rubbery cheese made from goats' and sheep's milk and prized for its ability to withstand a grill without melting is the country's leading export. Cypriot authorities have spent years trying to get the European Union to recognize halloumi, or hellim in Turkish, as a traditional product of the east Mediterranean island nation. Receiving the EU's top quality mark — the “Protected Designation of Origin” — would mean only halloumi made in Cyprus could be marketed abroad under that name. The nation's farmers and producers want the Cyprus-specific designation to keep makers of inferior cheeses in other countries from claiming a slice of their market of over 200 million euros ($222 million). Cypriot producers say demand from overseas is projected to hit new highs in the next few years, thanks to heat-tolerant halloumi's growing popularity as a meat alternative. However, ethnically divided Cyprus' complex politics so far have stymied the bid to protect the halloumi name. The difficulty lies in a dispute over how to lawfully get cheese made in the country's breakaway northern third to foreign markets. The self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey and goods produced there cannot be exported directly. Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The country joined the EU in 2004, but EU rules and regulations only apply to the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island led by an internationally recognized government. A European Parliament member from Cyprus has accused the EU's executive commission of letting the PDO application for halloumi grow moldy. The government hopes the new European Commission seated last month will find a way around the quandary. Halloumi/hellim was put on track for an exclusive geographic designation amid much fanfare in 2015, when relaunched negotiations between the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders brimmed with hope of delivering a deal to reunify the island as a two-zone federation. A compromise was struck for the Bureau V eritas — a European body that certifies food and agricultural products — t o perform checks on halloumi/hellim produced on both sides of the ethnic divide to ensure it met EU health and safety standards. But the peace talks eventually collapsed, and the application has languished since then. The Cypriot government says the agreement foresaw the export to European markets of vetted, Turkish Cypriot-produced cheese through EU-recognized ports in the south. Britain, Sweden and Germany currently are the top three markets for Cyprus' halloumi. But Turkish Cypriot authorities say there was no such understanding. They accuse Greek Cypriots of blocking the European Commission’s effort to enable halloumi/hellim exports from the island's north. “Turkish Cypriot producers should be able to export PDO-registered hellim/halloumi as they deem viable,” Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce President Turgay Deniz said. “They should not be restricted to trading across (the dividing line) and via the ports in the south.” According to Deniz, 13 Turkish Cypriot halloumi/hellim producers export around 30 million euros ($33 million) worth of the cheese to Turkey and Gulf countries. The cheese reaches Gulf nations through Turkey. Cyprus’ Agriculture Ministry says it intends to keep pushing to clinch the exclusive mark and 'to solve soon the remaining issues relating to the registration of halloumi/hellim for the benefit of all Cypriot producers.” The European Commission says it’s in contact with the Cypriot government and Turkish Cypriots to “ensure an outcome.' But Cypriot European Parliament member, Costas Mavrides, alleges the Commission is “arbitrarily” stalling it's approval for halloumi to get the PDO. He said there’s no legal reason for the cheese not to gain the designation and that the only step that's left is the green light from the Commission. Mavrides is urging the Cypriot government to take the matter to the EU Court of Justice so halloumi/hellim gets the coveted moniker. Farmers' organizations fully back the government's PDO drive for halloumi. But curiously, a segment of the cheese-making community is voicing its dissent at the cheese clinching the designation amid concerns that this could lead to job losses and shrinking revenue. For halloumi/hellim t o secure the designation, it must conform to a Cyprus government directive that it must contain at least 51% sheep's and goats' milk. That's in line with a traditional Cypriot recipe dating back some 500 years when cows were a rare commodity. Now, the cheese is made with mostly cow's' milk. But Cheesemakers’ Association President George Petrou warns that more than one-third of the 13,000 Cypriot families in the halloumi/hellim business would find themselves out of a job if they couldn't use as much cows' milk in their cheese. Cheese exports would drop by at least half, as production would plummet because of a current shortage of sheep and goat milk, Petrou estimated. Petrou says cheese-makers instead want authorities to pursue a geographical origin designation whose rules are more flexible on how much cow milk can be used. “As cheese-makers, we want a solution that won’t reduce exports or lead to job losses,” Petrou told The Associated Press. Other industry groups see holes in that argument. Rejecting the idea of using less cows' milk loses sight of the long-term benefits that a PDO mark would offer Cypriot halloumi makers, says Michalis Lytras, president of the Pancyprian Farmers’ Union. The geographic designation would protect local producers from foreign competitors who might use cheaper, possibly government-subsidized cow milk to make halloumi/hellim. A PDO designation wouldn’t preclude finding solutions addressing cheesemakers' concerns, like possibly marketing halloumi/hellim made with mostly cow milk under a different name. “We can’t sacrifice those long-term benefits for short-term gains,” said Lytras. Takis Christodoulou, president of the New Farmers’ Movement, says the high sheep and goat milk content appeals to health-conscious European consumers who are helping to fuel halloumi sales. Christodoulou disputes that revenue from halloumi/hellim exports would drop as steeply as Petrou contends. He said while there may be a dip in cheese exports, PDO-designated halloumi/hellim would command higher prices in foreign markets. “This is the natural product of Cyprus, and we couldn’t be prouder of it,” said Christodoulou.
  • The gleaming white booth towered over the medical conference in Italy in October, advertising a new brand of antidote for opioid overdoses. “Be prepared. Get naloxone. Save a life,” the slogan on its walls said. Some conference attendees were stunned when they saw the company logo: Mundipharma, the international affiliate of Purdue Pharma — the maker of the blockbuster opioid, OxyContin, widely blamed for unleashing the American overdose epidemic. Here they were cashing in on a cure. “You’re in the business of selling medicine that causes addiction and overdoses, and now you’re in the business of selling medicine that treats addiction and overdoses?” asked Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an outspoken critic of Purdue who has testified against the company in court. “That’s pretty clever, isn’t it?” As Purdue Pharma buckles under a mountain of litigation and public protest in the United States, its foreign affiliate, Mundipharma, has expanded abroad, using some of the same tactics to sell the addictive opioids that made its owners, the Sackler family, among the richest in the world. Mundipharma is also pushing another strategy globally: From Europe to Australia, it is working to dominate the market for opioid overdose treatment. “The way that they’ve pushed their opioids initially and now coming up with the expensive kind of antidote -- it’s something that just strikes me as deeply, deeply cynical,” said Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation and a longtime advocate of greater naloxone availability. “You’ve got families devastated by this, and a company who sees dollar signs flashing.” ___ This story was produced with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. ___ Mundipharma’s antidote, a naloxone nasal spray called Nyxoid, was recently approved in New Zealand, Europe and Australia. Mundipharma defended it as a tool to help those whose lives are at risk, and even experts who criticize the company say that antidotes to opioid overdoses are badly needed. Patrice Grand, a spokesman for Mundipharma Europe, said in a statement that heroin is the leading cause of overdose death in European countries and nasal naloxone is an important treatment option. Injectable naloxone has long been available; it is generic and cheap. But Mundipharma’s Nyxoid is the first in many countries that comes pre-packaged as a nasal spray — an easier, less threatening way for those who witness an overdose to intervene. Nyxoid, which isn’t sold in the U.S., is more expensive than injectable naloxone, running more than $50 a dose in some European countries. A similar product manufactured by another pharmaceutical company has been available for years in the U.S. under the brand name Narcan. Critics say Nyxoid’s price is excessive, particularly when inexpensive naloxone products already exist. Grand declined to say how much Nyxoid costs Mundipharma to manufacture or how profitable it has been. The Sackler family’s pharmaceutical empire has long considered whether it might make money treating addiction, according to lawsuits filed against Purdue and the family. In the U.S., Purdue Pharma called its secret proposal Project Tango, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have alleged, and discussed it in a September 2014 conference call that included family member Kathe Sackler. In internal documents, the lawsuits allege, Purdue illustrated the connection they had publicly denied between opioids and addiction with a graphic of a blue funnel. The top end was labeled “Pain treatment.” The bottom: “opioid addiction treatment.” The slideshow said they had an opportunity to become an “end-to-end provider” — opioids on the front end, and addiction treatment on the back end. “It is an attractive market,” the staff wrote, according to the Massachusetts complaint. “Large unmet need for vulnerable, underserved and stigmatized patient population suffering from substance abuse, dependence and addiction.” In its response to the court, the family’s lawyers wrote that the plan was put forward by a third-party private equity fund as a potential joint venture and “at the very most, Project Tango was mentioned in passing on a few occasions and the proposal was subsequently abandoned.” A press release issued by the Sacklers said no member of the family or board had an active role in the presentations or supported the proposal, and called the lawsuits “sensationalized” and “misleading.” Purdue declined to comment. New York’s lawsuit alleges that in 2015, Project Tango was presented to Purdue’s board as a joint venture to sell the addiction medication suboxone that could become the “market lead in the addiction medicine space.” The presentation highlighted the sales opportunity in opioid addiction: 40 to 60 percent who went through treatment would relapse and need it again. Project Tango stalled. It was revised the next year with a new plan to sell naloxone, the lawsuits allege. Publicly, Purdue was denying that its painkillers caused the addiction epidemic. But in internal communications, the company described naloxone as a “strategic fit” and a “complementary” product to the prescription opioids they were already selling, the Massachusetts attorney general said. Purdue calculated that the need for overdose reversal medication was increasing so rapidly, potential revenue could triple from 2016 to 2018. The lawsuit alleges that Purdue identified its own painkiller patients as a target market for naloxone — and that it could use its sales force already visiting doctors to promote opioids to also promote overdose reversal medication. They saw potential profits in government efforts to expand access to naloxone to stem the tide of overdose deaths, a toll that has soared to 400,000 since the American epidemic began. Project Tango fizzled in the U.S.; the family’s press release said Purdue’s board rejected it. But half a world away, in Australia, Mundipharma embarked on an effort to promote naloxone that was sweeping and effective. As part of an Australian coroner’s investigation last year into six fatal opioid overdoses in New South Wales state, Mundipharma submitted a 15-page document touting the benefits of naloxone. If people around the overdose victims had had access to naloxone, the company wrote, many of those deaths may have been avoided. At the same time, Mundipharma was registering Nyxoid in Australia, a fact it acknowledged within its submission. In the document, the company suggested that officials change the country’s laws to allow for easier access to naloxone, get naloxone into needle exchange programs, detox centers and supervised injecting clinics, and establish a national, free take-home naloxone program. “The Coroner should consider what is needed to realise the full public health benefits of this essential medicine,” Mundipharma wrote. During the coroner’s inquest, Mundipharma sent a staffer to court to testify about the benefits of naloxone nasal spray. According to a transcript, Mundipharma’s Medical Affairs Director, Brian Muller, came to court with samples of naloxone products, including Nyxoid. Health and addiction experts also praised the drug’s life-saving potential. In her written findings delivered in March, Coroner Harriet Grahame agreed that naloxone should be more widely distributed and Nyxoid given to the state’s paramedics, police agencies, doctors and hospital emergency departments. Mundipharma also paid for a drug policy institute’s study on naloxone that the federal government ultimately used as a blueprint for a 10 million Australian dollar ($6.8 million) pilot program to distribute naloxone, including Nyxoid. And in October, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that Australia’s government would subsidize Nyxoid prescriptions, meaning it costs Australians as little as AU$6.50 ($4.50) per pack, versus around AU$50 without the subsidy. Asked in an interview whether the government had any concerns about following the recommendations of a Mundipharma-funded report that stood to benefit the company financially, Hunt replied: “All of the advice is that this is a product that will save lives and protect lives and our approach is to be fearless of the source of the product.” In a statement, Mundipharma Australia denied its Nyxoid push in the country had any connection to, or was influenced in any way, by Purdue’s Project Tango. “Mundipharma Australia and Purdue Pharma are independent companies,” the Australian company wrote. “Mundipharma Australia introduced Nyxoid to help meet a clear clinical need.” Grand, the spokesman for Mundipharma Europe, also rejected any link between the company’s Nyxoid strategy and Project Tango, saying that the European company and Purdue have separate managements, boards and strategies. In some countries, including Norway, Nyxoid is the only nasal naloxone product approved, said Thomas Clausen, a professor at the University of Oslo in Norway who runs the nation's naloxone program. Clausen is happy that Nyxoid is available, but not that a company profiting from mass marketing opioids is now trying to profit again off opioid addiction. “It’s kind of a paradox,” he said. Clausen said he hopes other companies will enter the market, and that competition will drive down cost. In its basic, generic form, Clausen said, naloxone is so cheap that the United Nations launched a pilot program in central Asian countries providing injectable naloxone at a cost of around $1 per kit. Some critics argue that Mundipharma should be providing a cheaper — or even free — naloxone product, although Nyxoid’s cost is not remarkable when compared to the exorbitant price of many prescription drugs in the U.S. The most common nasal antidote in the U.S. retails for more than $100, double what most Europeans pay for Nyxoid. Still, in some countries, Nyxoid’s price could prove problematic. Pernilla Isendahl runs a naloxone distribution program in a county in south Sweden that began in June 2018, when Nyxoid came onto the market. Each kit costs the government 450 Swedish Krona ($47.) The project is expected to run for at least three years, and she hopes after that the county will continue to pay for the medication, despite budget constraints. “I can’t really see how it would be financed by the people themselves, at the price it is now,” she said. In the United Kingdom, Nyxoid is being distributed by a handful of charities, said Peter Furlong, coordinator of British charity Change Grow Live’s Nyxoid distribution pilot program in Manchester. Furlong is pleased more people now have access to the medicine, but it still costs more than injectable naloxone. Furlong said he asked Mundipharma if they could reduce the drug’s price for the charity’s pilot, which began in August, but Mundipharma told him it was too early to talk discounts. Grand, the spokesman for Mundipharma Europe, said the company was working closely with charities and addiction organizations to identify the best ways to make the drug available to those who may benefit from it. Nyxoid’s price reflects the company’s investment, manufacturing cost and the value of the technology, while recognizing the “prevailing financial pressures that exist within care sectors,” he said. Stephen Wood, a fellow at the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics who studied how pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. raised prices on naloxone products as the addiction epidemic intensified, says that Sackler-owned companies manufacturing naloxone have an ethical duty to make it widely available. “If they were trying to find a solution, they would just distribute naloxone for free,” he said. “They could use all that money they made off opioids to help support a program where they are giving away this life-saving medication.” ___ The Global Opioids project can be seen here: https://www.apnews.com/GlobalOpioids
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom's opposition to Pacific Gas & Electric's restructuring plan just a week after it struck a $13.5 billion settlement with fire victims is forcing the nation's largest utility to go back to the negotiating table and come up with a solution fairly quickly. The San Francisco-based company needs to pull a deal off to meet a June 30 deadline to emerge from bankruptcy protection and regain its financial footing. Missing the deadline would prevent PG&E from being able to draw from a special fund created by the Democratic governor and state lawmakers to help insulate California utilities from future fires that many people believe are bound to erupt as a changing climate continues to create hazardous conditions. Utilities are at risk because their aging electric transmission lines are expected to take years to upgrade. On Thursday, PG&E filed an amended reorganization plan with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court after reaching a settlement on Dec. 6 with thousands of people who lost homes, businesses and family members in a series of devastating fires. In his letter on Friday, Newsom said the plan does not comply with state law and does not achieve the goal of addressing what he considers its most important elements: providing safe and reliable power to PG&E customers. “In my judgment, the amended plan and the restructuring transactions do not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable, and affordable service,' he said. The governor said PG&E’s plan did not go far enough in improving safety, corporate governance and the company’s financial position. The company has until Tuesday to appease Newsom and get him to sign off on the plan. “We’ve welcomed feedback from all stakeholders throughout these proceedings and will continue to work diligently in the coming days to resolve any issues that may arise,” PG&E said in a statement. Without the added protection of the California wildfire fund, PG&E would likely find it more difficult to borrow money to pay for the necessary upgrades and perhaps even fund its ongoing operations if it remains mired in bankruptcy proceedings beyond June 30. If PG&E can’t get a revised deal with the fire victims approved, it also will face the specter of navigating through two other legal gauntlets early next year that would be used as an alternative way to estimate how much the company owes for the catastrophic wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed nearly 130 people and destroyed about 28,000 structures in its sprawling service territory. One, a California state trial to be held in January, will determine whether PG&E is liable for a 2017 fire in Sonoma County that the company hasn’t accepted full responsibility for. The trial would also award damages to the victims if PG&E is blamed. A subsequent proceeding, known as an estimation hearing, is scheduled in February before a federal judge to determine PG&E’s total bill for all the fires that could have been covered in the settlement that had been worked out with the victims. Attorneys for the fire victims so far have collectively lodged claims of about $36 billion against PG&E, according to court documents. But that figure could rise even higher after the state trial and estimation hearing, and it if does would likely leave PG&E unable to meet its financial obligations — a development that could lead U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali to declare the company insolvent. If that were to happen, it would automatically void a separate $11 billion settlement deal PG&E has reached with insurers who say they are owed $20 billion for the fire insurance claims they expect to pay their policyholders in the wildfires blamed on the utility. The insurance settlement, though, is also being opposed by Newsom, and is still awaiting Montali’s approval. The governor “may have upset a rather delicate bankruptcy process,” said Jared Ellias, a bankruptcy expert at University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “We’re going to see how resilient the deal that comes out of this process is going to be and whether it can adjust to meet his approval,” he said. ____ AP Business Writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this report.
  • Under pressure from a conservative advocacy group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled ads for a wedding-planning website that featured two brides kissing at the altar. The family-friendly network, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction, a spokesperson said in an interview Saturday. “The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value,” said a statement provided by Molly Biwer, senior vice president for public affairs and communications at Hallmark. In an interview, she added: “The Hallmark brand is never going to be divisive. We don't want to generate controversy, we've tried very hard to stay out of it ... we just felt it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy.' There was immediate criticism on Twitter. Ellen DeGeneres asked Hallmark: “Isn't it almost 2020? What are you thinking? Please explain. We're all ears.' Biwer confirmed that a conservative group, One Million Moms, part of the American Family Association, had complained about the ads to Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, Hallmark's parent company. A post on the group's website said that Abbott 'reported the advertisement aired in error.' The group also wrote: “The call to our office gave us the opportunity to confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family-friendly network.' Zola had submitted six ads, and four had a lesbian couple. After Hallmark pulled those ads, but not two featuring only opposite-sex couples, Zola pulled its remaining ads, the company said. “The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing,' said Mike Chi, Zola's chief marketing officer, in a statement sent to the AP. ”Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed. “All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark,' Chi said. In one of the pulled ads, two brides stand at the altar and wonder aloud whether their wedding would be going more smoothly if they had used a wedding planning site like Zola. The lighthearted ad ends with the two brides sharing a quick kiss on the altar. Actress Sandra Bernhard, who played one of the first openly bisexual characters on network TV in “Roseanne,' also criticized Hallmark's decision. “All the groovy gay ladies i know won't be watching your Christmas schlock,' she wrote on Twitter, addressing Hallmark. “They'll be out celebrating with their ’families' wives, children, friends on & on & getting married in chic ensembles. Didn't you all get the memo? Family is all inclusive.' The developments came as Hallmark appeared to be considering more same-sex themed content. Asked about the possibility of holiday movies based on same-sex relationships, Abbott was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter in mid-November as saying on its TV podcast: “We’re open to really any type of movie of any type of relationship.
  • Felix Rohatyn, the financier and government adviser who was credited with helping to save New York City from ruin during the 1970s as chairman of the agency that oversaw the city's finances, died Saturday. He was 91. Rohatyn's son Nicolas Rohatyn said his father died at his Manhattan home. The cause was “simply old age,' he said. Born in Vienna in 1928, Rohatyn (pronounced ROH-uh-tin) fled Nazi-occupied France with his family in 1940 and arrived in the United States in 1942. After rising to prominence with the banking firm Lazard, formerly Lazard Freres, Rohatyn was named chairman of the state-appointed Municipal Assistance Corporation in 1975. The position, which he held until 1993, gave him power over taxes and spending in the nation's largest city that was unusual for someone who did not hold elected office. As chairman of the agency, Rohatyn pushed the financially strapped city to make reforms including a municipal wage freeze and charging tuition at the formerly free City University of New York. Rohatyn wrote in the agency's annual report that the alternative to such cutbacks, which were criticized by many New Yorkers, “would have been bankruptcy for the city, which would have generated infinitely greater social costs.' Rohatyn likened his work brokering financial deals to the job of a surgeon. 'I get called when something is broken,” he told The Associated Press in 1978. “I’m supposed to operate, fix it up and leave as little blood on the floor as possible.” A longtime Democratic donor, Rohatyn was President Bill Clinton's first choice for vice chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1996, but he withdrew from consideration for the post due to opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Clinton named Rohatyn ambassador to France instead, and he served in the position from 1997 to 2000. Rohatyn returned to Lazard as a senior adviser in 2010 and remained active in public life well into his 80s. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo named him co-chairman of a commission dedicated to improving the resilience of the state’s infrastructure following Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Rohatyn was a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the author of books including “Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now,'' published in 2009, and 'Dealings: A Political and Financial Life,' published in 2010. Rohatyn married Jeanette Streit in 1956. Their marriage ended in divorce. He married the former Elizabeth Fly in 1979. She died in 2016. Rohatyn's survivors include sons Pierre, Nicolas and Michael, stepdaughter Nina Griscom and six grandchildren.
  • Just days after a landmark agreement on a trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico objected Saturday to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress as part of an eventual ratification of the deal. Jesús Seade, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department’s undersecretary and chief trade negotiator for North America, said most of the bill is in line with the typical process of ratification, but it also “adds the designation of up to five U.S. labor attaches in Mexico tasked with monitoring the implementation of the labor reform that is under way in our country.” Seade said that was not part of the agreement signed Dec. 10 in Mexico City by Mexico, the United States and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, but was rather the product of “political decisions by the congress and administration of the United States.” That should have been consulted with the country but was not, Seade said — “and, of course, we are not in agreement.” Mexico says it resisted the idea of having foreign inspectors on its soil out of sovereignty principles, and that the agreement provided for panels to resolve disputes on labor and other areas. The three-person panels would comprise a person chosen by the United States, one by Mexico and a third-country person agreed upon by both countries. Seade called the designation of labor attaches “unnecessary and redundant” and said the presence of foreign officials must be authorized by the host country. “U.S. officials accredited at their embassy and consulates in Mexico, as a labor attache could be, may not in any case have inspection powers under Mexican law,” he added. Seade said he sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressing Mexico’s “surprise and concern” over the matter and that he would travel to Washington on Sunday to convey the message personally to Lighthizer and U.S. lawmakers. “We reserve the right to review the scope and effects of these provisions, which our government and people will no doubt clearly see as unnecessary,” Seade said the letter read. “Additionally, I advise you that Mexico will evaluate not only the measures proposed in the (bill) ... but the establishment of reciprocal mechanisms in defense of our country’s interests.”
  • China expressed cautious optimism Saturday about a first-step trade agreement that dials down a trade war it blames the U.S. for starting. Chinese experts and news media joined government officials in saying the deal would reduce uncertainty for companies, at least in the short term. They remained cautious, saying both sides will have to show a willingness to compromise to resolve the more fundamental differences between them. “It at least stabilizes the situation and lays a foundation for the next round of trade talks or canceling additional tariffs in the future,' said Tu Xinquan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “I cannot predict what achievement can be made during the future talks.' The two countries announced a “Phase 1' agreement Friday under which the U.S. will reduce tariffs and China will buy more U.S. farm products. Chinese officials said the nine-chapter text, which includes intellectual property, technology transfer, financial services and dispute settlement, has to undergo legal and translation review before it can be signed. At a late night news conference in Beijing, timed to coincide with the U.S. morning, the officials said the United States would begin phasing out tariffs on Chinese imports, rather than continue to raise them. The deal was announced just two days before higher tariffs were set to kick in. China would make similar tariff cuts, the officials said, but they gave no details. China portrayed the agreement as in line with the opening up of its economy and the deepening of its economic reforms. Increased imports of high-quality products from the United States and elsewhere will “meet the growing needs of the people for a better life,' said Wang Shouwen, a deputy commerce minister and trade negotiator. Bai Ming, an economic expert described as being close to the commerce ministry, told the state-owned Global Times newspaper that the U.S. tariff cuts demonstrate a positive attitude. “They are not showing enough of it, but it's an improvement,' he was quoted as saying. In a separate piece, the Global Times called the agreement a new beginning. It pointed to stock market gains in recent days as word of a possible deal emerged. The dispute between the world's two largest economies had rattled markets and depressed global growth. “China and the U.S. have been locked in a trade war for about 20 months and neither side could overwhelm the other to recklessly impose its own will on the other,' said the newspaper, which is known for its nationalistic views. It added, though, that both countries are capable of prolonging the trade war, and that resolving their differences will require patient negotiations. “Rome was not built in a day,' it wrote. ___ Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.
  • A Santa Monica beachfront hotel built without proper permits and fined nearly $15.6 million will be allowed to remain open. After hours of debate the California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 Thursday to approve after-the-fact permits for the Shore Hotel, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. In exchange, the hotel’s developer agreed to create a “micro hotel' within the Shore resort that overlooks Santa Monica Pier. The resort will include 72 rooms priced no higher than $180 a night, waive $25 resort fees for guests in those rooms and limit their nightly parking fees to $25. The developer, Sunshire Enterprises, still has to pay the nearly $15.6 million fine and must also cover $2.3 million in mitigation fees. The fine issued in May for opening the hotel without proper permits is a record for the commission. The dispute began after the commission, which oversees development along California’s coast, granted Sunshine approval in 2009 to demolish two aging, moderately priced hotels containing a total of 87 rooms. They were to be replaced with a new hotel that commissioners were promised would also be affordable in a tourist area where inexpensive hotels are rare. But after the demolition permits expired the developer built a 164-room resort hotel with two restaurants, a pool, a gym, a meeting space and rooms ranging in price from $265 to $800 a night, the Times said. Parking fees were $43 a night. In seeking permit approval Thursday, the developer originally proposed adding a 14-bed, low-cost hostel with nightly rates topping out at $52. After commissioners said that was insufficient, the hotel agreed to turn the 14-bed hostel into a micro-hotel.
  • Kim Motl doesn’t work in the health insurance industry. But her friends and neighbors do. So when she saw Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Motl pressed the Democratic presidential candidate about her “Medicare for All” plan, which would replace private insurance with a government-run system. “What about the little guys that work in the insurance business, that support our communities? The secretary that works for them, but maybe supports their family, what happens to them?” the 64-year-old housing advocate asked the senator. “What happens to all of those people who lose their jobs?” Motl asked in a later interview. Warren reassured her that jobs would not be lost because of her plan. But the exchange is a reminder that while railing against the insurance industry can score points with the progressive Democratic base, it can also alienate potential supporters in Iowa, where voters will usher in the presidential primary in less than two months. Nearly 17,000 Iowans are either directly employed by health insurance companies or employed in related jobs, according to data collected by America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry advocacy group. Des Moines, the seat of the state’s most Democratic county, is known as one of America’s insurance capitals partly because of the high number of health insurance companies and jobs in the metro area. Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield’s health insurance headquarters employs roughly 1,700 in the metro area, and that’s just one of the 16 health insurance companies domiciled in Iowa, according to the Iowa Insurance Division. For many Iowans, the Medicare for All debate is personal, and the prospect of losing a job could influence whom they support in the Feb. 3 caucuses. Tamyra Harrison, vice-chair of the East Polk Democrats, says she has heard worries at her local Democratic meetings about “the effect it would have on people that work in the insurance industry, and those that have small businesses in the area.” “They’re concerned about the repercussions on people living here that maybe the Democrats aren’t thinking of” when they’re talking about eliminating private insurance, she said. The Democrats’ health care plans vary widely in terms of the speed and scope with which they would affect health care industry jobs, but experts say every plan marks a substantial reconfiguring of one of the country’s biggest industry and thus all would affect thousands of jobs nationwide. Some, including Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have called for replacing private insurance with a government plan. Asked about this last month in Iowa, Warren said, “Some of the people currently working in health insurance will work in other parts of insurance — in life insurance, in auto insurance, in car insurance,' or for the new government-run system. She also cited five years of “transition support” for displaced workers built into the plan. Sanders has previously argued that his plan would see 'all kinds of jobs opened up in health care,” and his bill includes a fund to help retrain and transition private insurance workers out of their current jobs. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, would leave room for private insurers, but also include a public option, which they have acknowledged could ultimately put insurance companies out of business. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is trying to walk a line on the issue, having signed onto Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate but on the campaign trail shied away from eliminating private insurance entirely. Even those who say they would keep private insurance companies face risks. Buttigieg revealed this week that he worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan during his time as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. He said he “doubts” his work contributed to layoffs the company later announced and has instead sought to highlight the impact of his opponents' plans. “There are some voices in the Democratic primary right now who are calling for a policy that would eliminate the job of every single American working at every single insurance company in the country,” he said. Economists say the jobs impact of any shift away from private health care would be felt nationwide by hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's not just jobs at private insurance companies that could be affected; those working on processing insurance claims at hospitals and other administrative health care jobs could be reduced as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, nearly 386,000 Americans were employed by health and medical insurance carriers — but some analysts found the number of jobs lost from eliminating private insurance could be much higher. Economists at the University of Michigan found in an analysis of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill that the jobs of nearly 747,000 health insurance industry workers, and an additional 1.06 million health insurance administrative staffers, would no longer be needed if Medicare for All became law. In Iowa, however, the issue could be particularly problematic. Around Des Moines, “you can’t swing a dead cat without finding someone who works at an insurance provider or a company,” said Mary McAdams, chair of the Ankeny Area Democrats. She said she believes Democrats in her area aren’t as concerned about what would happen to their jobs if private insurance were eliminated because they don’t have much allegiance to their companies to begin with. “They know full well these companies would drop them like a habit,” she said. The economic repercussions of eliminating private insurance jobs could go beyond simply the loss of local jobs, as Paula Dierenfield, a Republican lawyer and the executive director of the Federation of Iowa Insurers, points out. “This is an industry that employs thousands of employees in high-quality jobs,' she said. “All of those employees pay income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and the companies that they work for also pay millions in premium taxes, as well as property taxes. So it would have a significant impact on the Iowa economy generally as well as here in the Des Moines metro area.' The peripheral effects of eliminating insurance jobs worry Marcia Wannamaker, a real estate agent from West Des Moines who raised her concerns about the fate of private insurance during a recent question-and-answer session with Biden. “It’s really going to cut our jobs,” Wannamaker said. She later noted in an interview that if the private insurance industry shrinks, people working for such companies would lose their jobs. “Then that trickles down to the housing. They’re going to have to move. I just think it’s going to be a disaster,” she said. “When you sell real estate, these people buy homes. It’s just part of how the Iowa — and especially in Des Moines, the economy works.” ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly `` Ground Game ’’ politics podcast.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom has rejected a $13.5 billion settlement that Pacific Gas & Electric struck just last week with thousands of people who lost homes, businesses and family members in a series of devastating fires that drove the nation's largest utility into bankruptcy. The decision announced Friday in a five-page letter to PG&E CEO William D. Johnson marks a major setback in the utility's race to meet a June 30 deadline to emerge from bankruptcy protection. The San Francisco-based company needs to pull a deal off to be able to draw from a special fund created by the Democratic governor and state lawmakers to help insulate utilities if their equipment sparks other catastrophic fires. The risks have escalated during the past few years amid dry, windy conditions that have become more severe in a changing climate. In his letter, Newsom said the proposed settlement announced last week does not achieve the goal of addressing what he considers its most important elements, providing safe and reliable power to PG&E customers. “In my judgment, the amended plan and the restructuring transactions do not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable, and affordable service,' he said. He went on to say that PG&E's problems are the result of decades of mismanagement that must be addressed before he will sign off on any proposed settlement. “PG&E’s board of directors and management have a responsibility to immediately develop a feasible plan,' the governor said. “Anything else is irresponsible, a breach of fiduciary duties, and a clear violation of the public trust.' State Sen. Bill Dodd, who represents much of the fire-ravaged area, praised Newsom's action. “We all know that we can't trust PG&E to do the right thing or even follow the law,' the Napa Democrat said. “Gov. Newsom has been standing up for the interests of ratepayers, victims and communities from day one.' Newsom played a pivotal role in prodding Pacific Gas & Electric to work out a settlement with the fire victims instead of sticking to its original plan to earmark about $7.5 billion for them. That $7.5 billion became particularly galling to the governor and other critics after the company agreed to pay $11 billion to resolve a potential $20 billion liability with insurers. Those insurers had already paid their policyholder claims in the fires that killed more than 120 people and destroyed nearly 28,000 homes and other buildings during 2017 and 2018. The proposed settlement agreed to last week by the utility and attorneys representing fire victims would have paid $6.75 billion to the victims in installments ending in early 2022, and $6.75 billion in company stock that would give them close to a 21% stake in the reorganized PG&E. The settlement also required significant concessions from the victims. Their lawyers had been contending victims were owed at least $36 billion and were likely to seek even larger amounts had they pursued their claims in a state trial and federal court hearing that had been scheduled for early next year. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali would have to approve a settlement by Dec. 20 for the deal to become part of the utility's official plan to regain its financial footing. If that happens, bankruptcy experts believe the utility's preferred reorganization plan will have a clear-cut advantage over a competing proposal from a group of bondholders and a potential bid from a group of cities and counties who have been mulling an attempt to turn the company into a customer-owned cooperative. One of the attorneys representing thousands of fire victims said Friday night he hopes PG&E can still pull together a revised proposal that will satisfy the governor before that deadline. “I'm hopeful that adjustments can be made so that all the parties can move forward to obtain compensation for the victims who have suffered so much over two years,' said Rich Bridgford of Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian. Although he praised the proposed settlement just last week, Bridgford said he understands Newsom's concerns. “The governor’s heart is in the right place in seeking to ensure that PG&E emerges from bankruptcy in such a way as to guarantee it can adopt the safety measures necessary to avoid catastrophic wildfires in the future,' Bridgford said. 'It's a delicate balancing act.' ___ Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Sacramento and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this story. .

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Police in Oklahoma are investigating after a fatal triple shooting Saturday afternoon in Jenks. Investigators told KOKI-TV that a man and his two sons are dead after what they believe is a case of murder-suicide. Police said the children’s mother was at work at the time. The shooting happened in the Country Woods neighborhood near West 106th Street South and South Madison Street South. Officers responded to a call around 12:50 p.m. regarding a domestic incident at the home. Police said others living in the home called 911. No one else in the home was injured.
  • Federal prosecutors say that two men in Las Vegas have plead guilty to running one of the nation's biggest illegal TV and movie streaming services. They say 36 year old Darryl Polo and 40 year old Luis Villarino, who ran the site iStreamItAll, told the Justice Department that their service provided over 100,000 television episodes and movies to all of its subscribers all without consent from the copyright owners. That equals more than Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime put together.  They reportedly got their content from pirate and 'torrent' web sites, stored them, and then distributed them to servers in Canada for all their subscribers. Polo says he made more than $1 million running the site.  Prosecutors also say the two used their programming skills to run another similar operation called Jetflicks, which also used automated software to find, download, and distribute the content to servers in the U.S. and Canada.  Polo and Villarino face charges of money laundering and copyright infringement. They are due to be sentenced in a Virginia federal court in March.
  • A controversial plan has been unanimously approved by the Central Florida Expressway Authority to extend Osceola Parkway. The nine mile extension would connect State Road 417 to new developments with a portion cutting through Split Oak Forest, which houses a variety of endangered species. This would impact 160 out of the 1,700 acre forest, which is home to state protected animals such as sand-hill cranes, gopher tortoises, and even wild turkeys.  However, if the route through the forest would not have been chosen, an alternate route would affect nearly 20 homes just south of Split Oak in the Narcoossee area. Expressway leaders say the toll road is needed to accommodate the next 50 years worth of projected population growth in the area.  Some approvals are still needed at the state level before it goes into effect, but the plan is on its way to commissioners in Orange and Osceola counties for their approval as well.
  • A Virginia mother is wanted on abduction charges after authorities say she took her four children on vacation six months ago and never brought them home. The woman alleges she is saving the children from sex trafficking by their father and grandfather. Along with four misdemeanor abduction charges, Melody Bannister, 34, of Stafford, is charged with felony violation of a court order and filing a false police report, a news release from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said. A warrant was issued for her arrest Aug. 23, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Her children are identified as Genevieve Bannister, 13; Janelle Bannister, 12; Vivienne Bannister, 11; and Peter Bannister, 7. Genevieve is described as 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 110 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes, according to the NCMEC. Janelle is described as 5 feet, 1 inch tall and 115 pounds. Like her older sister, she has brown hair and hazel eyes. Vivienne is listed as 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 95 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Peter is described as 4 feet, 1 inch tall and 90 pounds. He also brown hair and blue eyes. Bannister is described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 110 pounds. Like her two youngest children, she has brown hair and blue eyes. The children and their mother were last known to be traveling in a blue-green 2002 Honda Odyssey with Virginia license plate number VBH7123, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Wright said during a segment about the case on “Live PD” on A&E. Finding Bannister and the children has become more urgent after “recent developments in the investigation have led investigators to believe the children may now be in danger,” the Sheriff’s Office’s statement said. Wright, who is lead investigator on the case, said on “Live PD” that authorities believe the missing family might be in danger due to the “clandestine nature” of the religious organization they belong to. “We’re concerned about the welfare because they are unable to take care of themselves. They don’t have any means to take care of them. Melody doesn’t have means to take care of them,” Wright told host Tom Morris Jr. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Amanda Vicinanzo said investigators believe Bannister has had help along the way from members of a religious group of which she is purportedly a member, according to the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. The newspaper reported that the family’s pets, a white Great Pyrenees dog and white ragdoll cat, were left at one of the stops Bannister has made since leaving Virginia. “After months on the road, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pets: Our giant, bounding bundle of puppy-faced joy and our fluffy cat, whose soothing whirr often assuaged our soreness of heart,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.” “Live PD” pointed out that Bannister has written about her religion previously, describing it as a “cult.” According to a blog she began in 2016 called Lady Adelaide’s Realm, Bannister grew up in a Quiverfull household. Followers of the Quiverfull movement believe that the men with the most children will earn the most favor from God. They shun all forms of contraception, believing that it is only God who “opens and closes the womb,” follower Kelly Swanson told NPR in 2009. The movement advocates stringent gender roles, and women are not allowed to question their husbands’ authority. They cannot work outside the home, wear pants or cut their hair. According to some of Bannister’s friends -- and a second blog the missing woman appears to have written since going on the run with her children -- the danger toward the children lies not with their mother, but in their father’s home. Bannister’s blog devoted to the allegations is subtitled “American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground.” Her most recent blog post on Lady Adelaide’s Realm, dated June 28, names six men, including her father-in-law, as her children’s alleged abusers. The men are not being named because they have not been charged with a crime. ‘Will justice triumph over lawlessness this Christmas?’ A Change.org petition begging for help from Virginia and Alabama officials claims that the children’s father “conspired with (Bannister’s) father-in-law to perpetuate some of the most horrifying sexual and physical abuse imaginable upon her children.” “When local law enforcement failed to protect these children, ordering them back to live with their abuser, Melody chose to live on the wrong side of the law. What else could a truly desperate mother do?” the petition reads. Bannister has accused her husband of “deliver(ing) the children up for torture to the barn of his father.” She has accused her father-in-law of not only sexually abusing the children, but of offering them up for abuse by his friends. “The children have spoken of being given strange substances in the barn that made the world swim before their eyes and caused the taunting faces of their abusers to converge together in a dizzying blur,” Bannister wrote. She wrote on the blog that her only crimes were “believing (her) children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse” and “reporting (it) to the Stafford, Virginia, police.” Stafford County officials said that an investigation into the allegations brought to them by Bannister in June found no evidence of abuse against the children. “A joint investigation with Stafford County law enforcement and Child Protective Services determined the allegations were unfounded,” according to the statement from the Sheriff’s Office. “Shortly after the conclusion of the investigation, Bannister left Virginia with the children on a planned vacation and never returned.” Bannister wrote on her blog that she and the children left town for a vacation June 14, the day after she reported the abuse, in part out of fear of reprisal from the accused. She said she called the Sheriff’s Office detective, Wright, a few days later to check up on the investigation. “We spoke briefly once, when he told me that he had interviewed my husband and would soon interview my father-in-law,” Bannister wrote. “After that, he stopped answering my phone calls.” She wrote that Wright and a CPS caseworker chalked the sex abuse claims up to children’s “vivid imaginations.” She described fleeing Virginia with the “rancid hot breath of child predators” on her back. “We left home with barely a week’s worth of summer clothes and are practically penniless, living off the kindness of friends who, one by one, have taken us under their wings,” Bannister wrote. She said her husband drained their joint bank account and cancelled her credit cards when she did not bring the children back to Virginia. Read Bannister’s entire, five-part blog here. Warning: It includes graphic details of alleged child sex abuse. Stafford County’s Juvenile, Domestic and Relations Court granted sole custody of the children to their father the following month, Stafford County authorities said. Their father, identified in court records as William Joseph Bannister, filed for divorce last month. “(Melody) Bannister refused to return the children and subsequently petitioned the courts in Alabama requesting custody be issued to her there,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said. “The courts in Alabama heard the case and also ordered Bannister to return her children to their father back in Virginia. “Bannister absconded from the state of Alabama with her four children and has not been seen since.” Bannister and the children were last seen Aug. 20 in Moulton, a small city in northwest Alabama. “We set up residence in Alabama and made it our new home, where we obtained a protective order against the man formerly known as Daddy,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.” Bannister wrote that a family court hearing was held in Virginia without her presence Aug. 19, with a judge ruling in her husband’s favor. She claimed she was never served with a summons for the hearing. She and the children vanished from Alabama the next day. US marshals issue alert Aside from Alabama, potential sightings of the family have been reported in Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas. The U.S. Marshals Service and the NCMEC have been involved in the case over the past few months, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Marshals Service issued an alert this week seeking help from the public in finding Bannister and the missing children. A friend of Bannister, Julie Lampkins, shared a story on Facebook about the missing family, saying it was “with a heavy heart” that she shared the link about the mother’s alleged abduction of her children. “We all have questions, but no answers,” Lampkins wrote. “Help the authorities find her and her (four) kids.” Meanwhile, Bannister is appealing for help on the state and federal levels, according to the Change.org petition. It quoted additional portions of Bannister’s blog. “The mental health and credibility of my children and me have been assessed and verified by two of the most prestigious forensic psychiatrists in the country: Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Carole Lieberman,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “Naturally, the abusers did not take kindly to such a development and are seeking to have the reports stricken from the record. ‘Eliminate all threats’ seems to be their motto. Hence our position of living underground.” Followers on her blog wrote this week that they believed her and her children. “Many people believe you and are praying and sharing the news and asking God to vindicate and protect. Praying that true justice will be served,” Carrie Brownell wrote. A friend, identified as Lana, told Bannister she was praying for her, as well as sharing her story and contacting a list of law enforcement officers listed on the blog on Bannister’s behalf. Another friend named Rachael offered similar well wishes. “Oh Melody…my heart is so broken for you and your sweet kids,” the woman wrote. “I will be keeping you in my prayers and doing what I can. Locally.” A third friend named Petra Carden wrote that Bannister and her children have a place in her home “any time, day or night, no questions asked” if Bannister has to return to Virginia. Others who read her story offered her help in other locations throughout the country, including Alabama, where she and the children were last seen. Many people who believe Bannister’s allegations of abuse urged caution in reporting the family’s whereabouts. “If the news articles released regarding Melody Bannister’s children being in danger is all people know, they will report them when they see them and put them back in danger,” one woman wrote on Twitter. A cult? Bannister’s Facebook profile lists her as manager of a website called Recovering Daughters. The description of the site on its corresponding Facebook page states it is about “healing from Vision Forum, authoritarianism and the Quiverfull Movement.” The Recovering Daughters website is no longer available because the domain has recently expired. Vision Forum was a Texas-based ministry that promoted a patriarchal lifestyle, in which the husband rules the family, and home-schooling its children. The ministry was shut down by its board in 2013 after leader Doug Phillips admitted to an extramarital affair, the Huffington Post reported. Phillips has been a friend of and influence on Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” focused on their beliefs against birth control and that large families are a gift from God, the news site said. The Duggars, who lost their show after their eldest son, Josh Duggar, was publicly accused of sexually molesting multiple young girls, including some of his sisters, have also been associated with the Quiverfull movement, though the Huffington Post reported in 2015 that the couple does not formally consider themselves members of the movement. The Quiverfull movement gets its name from a Bible passage: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Hännah Ettinger, a young woman raised in the movement who had left that world behind, told Cosmopolitan in 2015 that her first big break from the religion came when her father told her she “didn’t have the spiritual discernment” to choose her own boyfriend, a man she met at her Christian college. “Later, I got utterly fed up with the churches I’d grown up in because I kept finding out that they’d protected child abusers, rapists, and men who’d beaten their wives, all in the name of redemption stories, ‘biblical’ male headship and complementarian theology,” Ettinger told the magazine. Vyckie Garrison, another former Quiverfull member, told Vice in 2016 that, with no central leader, the movement isn’t a cult, per se. It’s more of a mindset “in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme patriarch,” Vice reported. Garrison founded a website called No Longer Quivering, which is designed to help other women in her situation escape the movement. In April 2015, the American Atheists Convention named her its 2014 Atheist of the Year. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bannister and her children is asked to call the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at 540-658-4400, the U.S. Marshals Service at 877-WANTED2 or the NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST.
  • Some new detours and lane closures are scheduled for our Seminole County commuters. Construction begins at 8:30 PM Friday night and will last until 6:30 Monday morning. As FDOT widens the few miles of 17-92 near Seminole state college from four to six lanes, thru traffic won't be affected. However, Northbound drivers will have to take an early detour if they need to turn left at Ronald Reagan Blvd.  Southbound drivers wishing to turn left into Parks Lincoln of Longwood are asked to make a U-turn farther down the road. Additionally, Westbound drivers on Ronald Reagan Blvd turning left on Southbound 17-92 will not have a detour, but are asked to follow channeling devices to keep traffic flowing smoothly during construction: FDOT reminds drivers to stay alert and use caution while driving, as safety doesn’t happen by accident.

Washington Insider

  • The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear arguments on an effort by President Donald Trump to prevent Congress and investigators in New York from using subpoenas to access his tax, banking, and other financial records, items which the President has fought to keep from being released. Lower courts had ordered Mazar's, the President's accounting firm, and two major banks, Deutche Bank and Capital One, to turn over financial records - those orders will stay on hold until the cases are resolved before the High Court. Attorneys for the President have lost at every level in state and federal court in all three cases, making the argument that Congress does not need Mr. Trump's financial information for any legitimate legislative purpose, casting it as a fishing expedition. The subpoenas were not to sent to the President - but rather to Mazar's, Deutche Bank, and Capital One - making the case somewhat different than a simple subpoena to Mr. Trump. 'Having considered the weighty interests at stake in this case, we conclude that the subpoena issued by the Committee to Mazars is valid and enforceable,' a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals wrote earlier this year in the Mazars case.  'We affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee and against the Trump Plaintiffs,' the judges added. With the arguments in March of 2020, that timing would suggest that a final decision could be one of the biggest cases to be decided in the 2019-2020 term - possibly being saved for late June, when the Court ends its work before a summer break. That would put the results squarely into the midst of the 2020 campaign for the White House. As for why the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, a number of legal experts said the Justices could have done that as a favor to President Trump - not necessarily indicating that Mr. Trump is going to prevail. 'These cases involve the President and his tax returns, and they may have felt no choice but to take the cases and decide them on the merits given their political importance,' said Aswin Phatak, a lawyer with the Constitutional Accountability Center.