New Zealand Scrambles To Treat Burn Victims From Volcanic Eruption : NPR


A view of the White Island volcanic eruption Monday off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand.

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A view of the White Island volcanic eruption Monday off the coast of Whakatane, New Zealand.

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New Zealand health officials have ordered nearly 1,300 square feet of cadaver skin to treat patients injured when a volcano spewed hot ash and deadly toxins across an island off the country’s coast earlier this week.

Six people are confirmed dead and eight more “missing and presumed deceased,” after Monday’s eruption on White Island, leading authorities to declare the tragedy a mass fatality incident.

Dozens of rescued tourists from the island have been admitted to hospitals, receiving treatment for significant burns to their skin and lungs. Health officials reported some patients received burns on at least 30% of their bodies.

New Zealand’s district health boards ordered the skin from the United States and other countries in order to support at-capacity burn units.

“We currently have supply, but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts,” Peter Watson, chief medical officer at Counties Manukau, said Wednesday. “We anticipate that we will require an additional 1.2 million square centimeters (1,292 square feet) of skin for the ongoing needs of the patients.”

The skin is the human body’s largest organ. The average adult’s body has about 21 square feet of skin, according to Forefront Dermatology.

According to Watson, dangerous gases and chemicals were released by the eruption, which have complicated search efforts. Officials said it could take several weeks to retrieve bodies still on the island.

“Depending on how long it takes to retrieve the deceased from the island, it could be some weeks before all the deceased are identified,” said Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall.

As of Wednesday night local time, attempts to return to White Island have been thwarted due to concerns of renewed activity. Volcanologists with the Global Seismographic Network warned New Zealand officials that another eruption is likely.

The tragedy has brought public scrutiny upon White Island Tours. Many are wondering why the tour group brought 47 people to New Zealand’s most active volcano. Officials announced an investigation into the incident, but police said it is “too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.”

Paolo Zialcita is an intern on NPR’s News Desk.



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Volcano Eruption Leaves 5 Dead, Authorities Say Some Tourists Unaccounted For : NPR


This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand on Monday.

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This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand on Monday.

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At least five people are dead after a volcanic island off the coast of New Zealand erupted Monday, local officials have confirmed.

New Zealand police say a number of people were injured and have been taken to an area hospital, but it remains too dangerous for emergency services to access the island and search for those missing.

Authorities believe fewer than 50 New Zealanders and international tourists were on or near White Island – about 30 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island – but the exact number of people unaccounted for is unclear.

“We are continuing to work as quickly as possible, through a number of channels of information, to confirm exact numbers of those involved, including those who remain on the island,” New Zealand Police said in a statement Monday.

The volcano erupted just after 2 p.m. local time on Monday, according to The Guardian, which reports 23 people have been rescued. It also reports:

“‘No signs of life have been seen at any point,’ police said after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island following the eruption on Monday afternoon. ‘Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.'”

New Zealand officials continue to receive advice from scientists about when it will be safe to for first responders to resume search operations.

“Due to the current risk environment, emergency services remain unable to access the island,” the statement said. “We are reassessing as information and advice is received, however Police will not be in a position to access the island tonight.”

Reporting from Manila, Philippines, NPR’s Julie McCarthy says the White Island Volcano is New Zealand’s most active.

“The eruption sent a plume of steam and ash 12,000-feet high, and affected the entire crater floor, according to a volcanologist from the research group GNS Science,” McCarthy said.

“Questions are rising over why tourists, who come to explore White Island’s moon-like surface, were still being allowed to visit. In recent weeks, scientists reportedly noted an uptick in volcanic activity—observing substantial gas, steam, and mud bursts at the vent.”

The BBC reports tourists were walking inside the crater moments before Monday’s eruption.

One visitor, Michael Schade, posted a Twitter thread with videos and photos of a thick grayish-white plume billowing from White Island. He said he and his family had narrowly escaped the destruction.

“My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001,” Schade tweeted. “My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable.”





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PG&E Announces $13.5 Billion Settlement Of Claims Linked To California Wildfires : NPR


Seen in August 2019, the remains of a home destroyed in Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire.

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Seen in August 2019, the remains of a home destroyed in Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire.

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Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric announced a $13.5 billion settlement agreement to resolve all claims associated with several Northern California wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of businesses and homes. The wildfires have been tied to the company’s equipment.

“We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” said PG&E Corp. CEO and President Bill Johnson in a statement released late Friday.

The settlement fund, if accepted by a bankruptcy judge, will go to victims who lost loved ones and/or property, as well as government agencies and attorneys who have pressed the claims.

PG&E declared bankruptcy in January, saying it faced potential liabilities of $30 billion. The company hopes that the settlement will improve its prospects for emerging from bankruptcy before a court-imposed deadline in June.

The settlement covers the Camp Fire in 2018; the Tubbs Fire in 2017; the Butte Fire in 2015; and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016.

Victims seeking compensation will have to file claims by the end of the year. The deadline had been extended because tens of thousands of eligible victims had failed to file amid reports that many were still unaware that they could seek payments.



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Supreme Court Indicates Gun Case May Be Moot : NPR


A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protections for 660,000 immigrants are on the line at the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protections for 660,000 immigrants are on the line at the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

For the first time in 10 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has heard a major gun-rights case. But the drum roll of anticipation seemed to fade, as the debate in the high court Monday focused almost exclusively on whether the case should be dismissed as moot.

At issue was a New York law that allowed New York City residents to have a permit for a gun at home, but barred them from transporting the gun elsewhere except to seven New York City shooting ranges. Three handgun owners who had such “premises licenses” challenged the law as a violation of their Second Amendment right to bear arms because they could not transport their guns to shooting ranges and competitions outside the city or to second homes.

“So what’s left of this case?”

The problem for those gun owners was that New York state and New York City abandoned the challenged law earlier this year after the Supreme Court said it would review it.

“New York City and New York state actually gave them everything that they had asked for before this argument,” said New York City corporation counsel James Johnson after the argument. “That was made very plain in this argument today.”

Indeed, it was, and the court’s liberals drove home the point.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointedly asked: “So what’s left of this case?”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor piled on. You’re asking [the court] to decide a case “in which the other side has thrown in the towel and completely given you every single thing you demanded in your complaint.”

Can you transport a gun and stop for coffee?

But lawyer Paul Clement, representing the gun owners, fought back. He argued that the new regulations for New York City still only permit “continuous and uninterrupted” gun transport within the city. That, he suggested, might put in doubt a stop for coffee or a bathroom break.

Justice Stephen Breyer didn’t take that argument seriously, saying he doubted any police officer would arrest someone for stopping for coffee.

Representing the Trump Administration, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall tried to argue that the case is still alive because the plaintiffs could be awarded damages.

Justice Ginsburg came to bat again, pointing out that the gun owners never asked for damages. Has “the Solicitor General ever asked this court to allow such a late interjection of a damages” claim in order to save a case from being thrown out as moot? she asked.

Wall conceded he knew of no such case.

That is the “democratic process”

Next up to the lectern was Richard Dearing, who serves as Deputy Counsel for the City of New York. He emphasized that this lawsuit challenged a premises license, not a carry license. A premises license, he noted, is granted for the home only, though it must allow certain limited transport of the licensed handgun.

Dearing said the plaintiffs asked only for specified additional transport of these guns, and the city in the end gave the handgun owners everything they had asked for.

That the city changed its laws, he suggested, “is a good thing, not a bad one. The government should respond to litigation, should assess its laws … when they are challenged.” That, he said, is the “democratic process.”

“So then why is this case moot?”

But suppose that, in addition to stopping for a cup of coffee, the gun owner stops to visit his mother for a couple of hours, posited Justice Samuel Alito. “Would there be any law that would violated?”

Dearing replied that those kinds of questions were never at issue when the old law was challenged.

“So then why is this case moot?” wondered Alito. “Because [the plaintiffs] didn’t get all that they wanted,” he insisted. “They wanted a declaration that the old law was unconstitutional, period.”

Dearing replied that the plaintiffs framed the case they brought; they asked for a court order that allowed them to transport handguns to shooting ranges outside the city and to homes outside the city. And they got what they asked for.

With Justices Alito and Neil Gorsuch overtly seeking to blunt the city’s mootness argument, at the end of the day the question was where the rest of the court stood.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a forceful advocate for gun rights, asked no questions, as usual.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh has a far more gun-friendly record than the justice he replaced last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy. But Kavanaugh too asked no questions.

New York City is committed to “closing the book” on its old law

Chief Justice John Roberts asked just a few questions, and only of the City of New York’s lawyer. He wanted to know if the city could deny a premises gun license to the plaintiffs in this case because they had admitted previously violating the law.

“Is the city committed to closing the book on that old rule,” asked Roberts?

Yes, replied lawyer Dearing, noting that the plaintiffs have already had their licenses renewed twice since challenging the old New York law.

Only once on Monday did any justice directly address the question posed by the original New York case: whether the city’s justification for its regulations were constitutional. “Are the people of New York City and state less safe now” under the new law than they were under the previous law that was challenged, asked Justice Alito?

“No, I don’t think so,” replied lawyer Dearing. “We made a judgment, expressed by our police commissioner, that it was consistent with public safety to repeal the prior rule.”

Alito pounced. “So you think the Second Amendment permits the imposition of a restriction that has no public safety benefit?

Dearing replied that the new regulations–allowing for more transport of premises licensed guns–will make enforcement more difficult. But he said it is still doable.

That hardly appeased Alito, but organizations advocating stricter guns laws were breathing easier. Their relief may be only temporary.

With Kavanaugh replacing the more moderate Kennedy, there now seems to be a conservative majority on the court, justices who will in future treat gun regulations with far more suspicion than in the past. And even if that day does not come this term, there are more test cases waiting in the wings.



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Farmers Are Using Food Waste To Make Electricity : The Salt : NPR


Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, owns Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. He has an anaerobic digester on his farm that converts food waste into renewable energy.

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Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, owns Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. He has an anaerobic digester on his farm that converts food waste into renewable energy.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the PBS NewsHour

As the season of big holiday meals kicks off, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on just how much food goes to waste.

If you piled up all the food that’s not eaten over the course of a year in the U.S., it would be enough to fill a skyscraper in Chicago about 44 times, according to an estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And, when all this food rots in a landfill, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In fact, a recent report from the United Nations from a panel of climate experts estimates that up to 10 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food waste.

So, here’s one solution to the problem: Dairy farmers in Massachusetts are using food waste to create electricity. They feed waste into anaerobic digesters, built and operated by Vanguard Renewables, which capture the methane emissions and make renewable energy.

The process begins by gathering wasted food from around the state, including from many Whole Foods locations. We visited the chain’s store in Shrewsbury, Mass., which has installed a Grind2Energy system. It’s an industrial-strength grinder that gobbles up all the scraps of food the store can’t sell, explains Karen Franczyk, who is the sustainability program manager for Whole Foods’ North Atlantic region.

The machine will grind up all kinds of food waste — “everything from bones, we put whole fish in here, to vegetables to dry items like rice or grains,” Franczyk says as the grinder is loaded. It also takes frying fats and greases.

Watch a video on farms turning food waste into renewable energy, in collaboration with PBS NewsHour.

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While Whole Foods donates a lot of surplus food to food banks, there’s a lot waste left over. Much of it is generated from prepping prepared foods. Just as when you cook in your own kitchen, there are lots of bits that remain, such as onion or carrot peel, rinds, stalks or meat scraps. The grinder turns all these bits into a slurry. “It really becomes kind of a liquefied food waste,” Franczyk says.

From here, the waste is loaded into a truck and sent to an anaerobic digester. “There’s no question it’s better than putting it in the trash,” Franczyk says. She says the chain is committed to diverting as much waste as possible and aims for zero waste. In addition to food donations, Whole Foods composts; this waste-to-energy system is yet another way to meet its goal. “We really do like the system,” she says.

We visited Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. Owner Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, showed us how his anaerobic digester, which is installed next to his dairy barn, works.

“We presently take in about a 100 tons [of waste], which is about three tractor-trailer loads, every day,” Melnik says.

In addition to all the food waste from Whole Foods, he gets whey from a Cabot Creamery in the area, as well as waste from a local brewery and a juice plant.

In the digester on his farm, Melnik combines food waste from Whole Foods and other local sources with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

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In the digester on his farm, Melnik combines food waste from Whole Foods and other local sources with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

In the digester, he combines all of this waste with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

“We capture the gas in that bubble. Then we suck it into a big motor,” Melnik explains. Unlike other engines that run on diesel or gasoline, this engine runs on methane.

“This turns a big generator, which is creating one megawatt of electricity” continuously, Melnik says — enough to power more than just his farm. “We only use about 10 percent of what we make, and the rest is fed onto the [electricity] grid,” Melnik explains. It’s enough to power about 1,500 homes.

He says times are tough for dairy farmers, so this gives him a new stream of revenue. Vanguard pays him rental fees for having the anaerobic digester on his farm. In addition, he’s able to use the liquids left over from the process as fertilizer on his fields.

A large motor (housed inside here) runs on the methane gas captured in the digester. This motor powers a generator, which creates electricity — enough to power about 1,500 homes.

Allison Aubrey/NPR


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A large motor (housed inside here) runs on the methane gas captured in the digester. This motor powers a generator, which creates electricity — enough to power about 1,500 homes.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

“The digester has been a home run for us,” Melnik says. “It’s made us more sustainable — environmentally [and] also economically.”

Vanguard Renewables hopes to expand its operations in the state and elsewhere. “There’s more than enough food waste in Massachusetts to feed all of our five digesters, plus many more,” says CEO John Hanselman.

Massachusetts has a state law that prohibits the disposal of commercial organic waste — including food — by businesses and institutions that generate at least one ton of this waste per week. This has created an incentive for food businesses to participate in the waste-to-energy initiative.

Hanselman points to Europe, where there are thousands of digesters in operation. His hope is that the concept will spread here. “The food waste recycling through anaerobic digestion could be done in every part of the country,” Hanselman says.

The company is currently building an anaerobic digester on a farm in Vermont. The gas produced there will be piped to Middlebury College, which will help the college reduce its carbon footprint.



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When The Diagnosis Is Chronic Hunger : The Salt : NPR


If you don’t have a steady source of healthy food, it’s hard to manage chronic conditions. That’s why health care providers are setting up food pantries — right in hospitals and clinics.

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If you don’t have a steady source of healthy food, it’s hard to manage chronic conditions. That’s why health care providers are setting up food pantries — right in hospitals and clinics.

mixetto/Getty Images

There’s a new question that anti-hunger advocates want doctors and nurses to ask patients: Do you have enough food?

Public health officials say the answer often is “not really.” So clinics and hospitals have begun stocking their own food pantries in recent years.

One of the latest additions is Connectus Health, a federally funded clinic in Nashville, Tenn. This month, the rear of LaShika Taylor’s office transformed into a community cupboard.

“It’s a lot of nonperishables right now, just because we’re just starting out,” she says, but the clinic is working on refrigeration.

It’s not that patients are starving, Connectus co-director Suzanne Hurley says. It’s that they may have a lot of food one day and none the next. That’s no way to manage a disease like diabetes, she says.

“I can prescribe medications all day, but if they can’t do the other piece — which is a decent diet and just knowing they’re not going to have to miss meals,” she says, “medications have to be managed around all of those things.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, a local food bank, is encouraging more health care providers to consider on-site pantries. The food bank also wants every patient — not just those suspected of being low income — asked about their food situation.

“We’re really pushing for universal screening, so you’re not picking who you’re asking that question to. The doctor already asks you really personal questions, and we don’t think twice about it,” says Caroline Pullen, Second Harvest’s nutrition manager. “I think people have always been scared to ask this question because they didn’t really have the resources of where to send them.”

“Food insecurity,” as it’s known, has become a particular concern among seniors. The anti-hunger group Feeding America found that more than 5 million older Americans don’t have enough food to lead a healthy life — a figure that has doubled in the last two decades.

Nashville General Hospital’s “food pharmacy” opened in February. Some shelves have high-calorie superfoods for cancer patients. Other foods are low sugar for patients with diabetes or low sodium for those with hypertension. The pantry recently added fresh garlic to help patients trying to lower the salt in their diet but maintain some flavor.

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Blake Farmer/Nashville Public Radio

Nashville General Hospital’s “food pharmacy” opened in February. Some shelves have high-calorie superfoods for cancer patients. Other foods are low sugar for patients with diabetes or low sodium for those with hypertension. The pantry recently added fresh garlic to help patients trying to lower the salt in their diet but maintain some flavor.

Blake Farmer/Nashville Public Radio

In response, food banks are increasingly meeting seniors where they get their health care. Hospitals from Utah to Massachusetts are sending patients home with food.

Trudy Hoffman now gets free groceries at her monthly visits to Nashville General Hospital.

“They just asked me, did I want a bag of food to carry home?” she recalls. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ “

The city-funded hospital started its pantry just for cancer patients in recent years but opened it to all patients this year and received a $100,000 grant in October to fund its expansion.

Organizers call it a “food pharmacy,” following the lead of places like Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with patients getting a “prescription” for what to pick up. Some shelves have high-calorie superfoods for cancer patients to keep their weight up. Others have low-sugar staples for people with diabetes or low-sodium items for patients with hypertension.

Vernon Rose, who oversees the Nashville General Hospital Foundation, says no one is surprised to see dozens of patients using the pantry each day.

“Because when you’re in a place like ours, where 40% of the folks can’t even afford their health care, you can imagine the choices they’re making,” she says — such as deciding whether to pay for food or pharmaceuticals.

The pantry operates mostly with grant funding. So Rose says the biggest challenge now is keeping it fully stocked with important but more expensive items like fresh produce and spices, which can be used to help patients keep some flavor while reducing salt in their diet.

This story is part of NPR’s reporting partnership with WPLN and Kaiser Health News.



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Chinese Woman Convicted Of Trespassing At Mar-A-Lago Sentenced To 8 Months In Jail : NPR


Yujing Zhang, who was arrested after unlawfully entering President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, repeatedly changed her story for visiting the club.

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Yujing Zhang, who was arrested after unlawfully entering President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, repeatedly changed her story for visiting the club.

Lynne Sladky/AP

A Shanghai businesswoman who was convicted of unlawfully entering President Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort while carrying a bag full of electronics is headed to jail for eight months.

Yujing Zhang, 33, was convicted of trespassing at Trump’s Florida club and lying to federal agents.

Zhang’s bizarre trial, in which she chose to represent herself, lasted all of two days before she was found guilty on both counts.

Throughout the brief proceedings she often appeared confused and distracted, shuffling through stacks of papers and taking long pauses before responding to questions.

Zhang’s grasp of the English language remained unclear although U.S. District Judge Roy Altman believed she understood much more than she let on.

“I know full well that you understand what I am saying to you both in English and in Mandarin,” the AP quoted Altman during an August hearing, “You are trying to play games.”

When she was arrested in March, there was speculation Zhang might be a foreign spy. She was found carrying two passports, four mobile phones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive and a thumb drive. Investigators found more electronics in her hotel room along with about $8,000 in cash, according to the complaint filed against her. But Zhang was never charged with espionage.

She has maintained her innocence, telling jurors during a brief closing statement, “I followed the instruction. I went into the Mar-a-Lago to have a visit. So that’s what I want to say, and thank you for your attention.”

She will be deported after serving her jail sentence.



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Vice President Pence Makes Surprise Visit To Iraq : NPR


Vice President Pence and his wife Karen Pence greet troops at a mess hall at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Saturday. At the base Pence spoke with Iraq’s prime minister by phone because of security concerns.

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Vice President Pence and his wife Karen Pence greet troops at a mess hall at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Saturday. At the base Pence spoke with Iraq’s prime minister by phone because of security concerns.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Updated at 10:13 a.m. ET

Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Iraq on Saturday to greet U.S. troops ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Pence and second lady Karen Pence flew to Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, aboard a C-17 military plane, along with the vice president’s chief of staff Marc Short, his national security adviser Keith Kellogg and a small group of reporters.

The visit was kept secret because of security concerns.

At the base Pence spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi — but by telephone rather than in person.

A senior administration official said the Iraqi leader declined an invitation to meet with Pence at the base and cited security reasons for Pence not going to Baghdad.

Pence did travel to Irbil in northern Iraq and met with Kurdish leader Nechirvan Barzani. Senior administration officials said the meeting was aimed at showing U.S. appreciation for Kurdish allies.

Pence told Barzani he was there to reiterate the “strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across the region.”

The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for President Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he would pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey to move in and attack Kurdish fighters there, who had been allied with the U.S. against ISIS.

The administration ultimately decided to keep some American service members in Syria to help secure the country’s oil fields. The U.S. also relocated some U.S. troops from Syria to Iraq. Iraq’s military warned, however, that the additional forces would not be allowed to stay in Iraq indefinitely.

Trump has defended his decision to pull some troops out of Syria, arguing that the U.S. is not obligated to defend Kurdish forces forever.

In Iraq on Saturday, Pence was asked if there was a sense of betrayal from the Kurds for the administration’s actions in Syria. Pence denied there is “any confusion” about Trump’s “commitment to our allies here in Iraq as well as the Syrian Defense Forces, the Kurdish forces who fought alongside us. It’s unchanging.”

Earlier at the air base, the vice president served turkey to U.S. troops and thanked them for their service.

“The armed forces of the United States are the greatest force for good that the world has ever known, and you are that force,” he said.

He also chastised Congress for failing to properly fund the Defense Department, saying that “partisan politics and endless investigations have slowed things down a bit in Washington, D.C.”

“I will make you a promise: This president, our administration will never stop fighting until we get you, our troops, the resources it needs to accomplish your mission and defend this nation,” Pence said.

The trip comes as the potential for the impeachment of President Trump hangs over the administration. The House Intelligence Committee has just wrapped up a series of public hearings in the impeachment probe examining Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine and whether he abused his power to target political rivals.

Current and former government officials have testified that they believed Trump was withholding military aid for Ukraine in order to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Burisma, a natural gas company with ties to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland made waves on Wednesday when he told lawmakers that Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were aware that aid was potentially being tied to these investigations.

Sondland said that he mentioned to Pence that he was worried the aid was being held up in pursuit of these probes.

Pence’s office almost immediately disputed those allegations, saying that the vice president never had a conversation about “investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid.”



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UAW President Gary Jones Abruptly Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal : NPR


Former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones speaks during the opening of contract talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Auburn Hills, Mich., in July 2019. Jones resigned Wednesday.

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Former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones speaks during the opening of contract talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Auburn Hills, Mich., in July 2019. Jones resigned Wednesday.

Paul Sancya/AP

The president of the United Autoworkers Union, Gary Jones, abruptly resigned Wednesday just as union leaders announced they would expel him and another top UAW official in an unfolding corruption scandal.

In a related development, General Motors (GM) filed suit against rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) alleging that the company bribed UAW officials in order to get favorable labor contracts and disadvantage GM.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek reported that the UAW’s International Executive Board unanimously voted to expel Jones.

“That kickstarted the process to remove Gary Jones and another UAW official, Director Vance Pearson.

“Both men have been implicated in a corruption scheme that involved misusing union funds for personal expenses, then covering it up.

“Both Jones and Pearson had already taken leaves of absence. Pearson already faces federal charges, while Jones has so far not been charged.”

An attorney for Jones, Bruce Maffeo of New York, told The Associated Press that union president decided to resign before learning of the board’s action.

Hours earlier, GM filed its federal racketeering lawsuit alleging that FCA bribed UAW officials in order to get contracts allowing the company to pay some newer employees less money — known as two-tier pay — resulting in lower labor costs.

“This lawsuit is intended to hold FCA accountable for the harm its actions have caused our company and to ensure a level playing field going forward,” Craig Glidden, GM Executive Vice President and General Counsel, said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that FCA corrupted bargaining agreements in 2009, 2011 and 2015.

FCA responded with a statement dismissing GM’s lawsuit as “this extraordinary attempt at distraction” with claims that “are nothing more than a meritless attempt to divert attention from that company’s own challenges.”

GM’s lawsuit alleges that FCA’s former CEO Sergio Marchionne authorized bribes of more than $1.5 million paid to UAW officials. Marchionne died in 2018.

It also alleges that Marchionne hoped to force higher labor costs onto GM in hopes of furthering a plan to induce the company to merge with FCA.

As Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports,

“GM’s lawsuit piggybacks on a federal investigation into UAW corruption that began several years ago – resulting in three Fiat Chrysler executives going to prison, along with six guilty pleas (so far) by union officials.

“Federal authorities says the executives were involved in a bribery scheme meant to keep union officials “fat, dumb and happy,” (quoting one of the convicted FCA executives, Alphons Iacobelli) during contract talks.

“GM says normally, the union’s pattern bargaining results in similar labor costs for all three Detroit automakers.”



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