EPA defies climate warnings

WASHINGTON — Despite scientists’ increasingly urgent warnings, the Trump administration ordered a sweeping about-face Wednesday on Obama-era efforts to fight climate change, easing restrictions on coal-fired power plants in a move it predicted would revitalize America’s sagging coal industry. As miners in hard hats and coal-country lawmakers applauded, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler signed a measure that scraps one of President Barack Obama’s key initiatives to rein in fossil fuel emissions. The replacement rule gives states more leeway in deciding whether to require plants to make limited efficiency upgrades. Wheeler said he expects more coal plants to open as a result. But one state, New York, immediately said it would go to court to challenge the action, and more lawsuits are likely. The EPA move follows pledges by candidate and then President Donald Trump to rescue the U.S. coal industry, which saw near-record numbers of plant closings last year in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables. It’s the latest and one of the biggest of dozens of environmental regulatory rollbacks by his administration. It came despite scientists’ cautions that the world must cut fossil fuel emissions to stave off the worst of global warming and the EPA’s own analysis that the new rule would result in the deaths of an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030, owing to additional air pollution from the power grid.

‘Joints will be separated’

GENEVA — The gathering on the second floor of the Saudi consulate featured an unlikely collection: a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, agents of the crown prince’s office. As they waited for their target to arrive, one asked how they would carry out the body. Not to worry, the doctor said: “Joints will be separated. It is not a problem,” he assured. “If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.” Their prey, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, would not leave the consulate in Istanbul alive. And on Wednesday, more than eight months after his death, a U.N. special rapporteur revealed new details of the slaying — part of a report that insisted there was “credible evidence” to warrant further investigation and financial sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The report brought the grisly case back into the spotlight just as the prince and his country appeared to be emerging from the stain of the scandal. But it contained no smoking gun likely to cause President Donald Trump to abandon one of his closest allies — and none likely to send the crown prince before a tribunal.

Self-help guru convicted

NEW YORK — The guru of a cult-like self-improvement group that attracted heiresses and Hollywood actresses was convicted Wednesday of turning his female devotees into his sex slaves through such means as shame, punishment and nude blackmail photos. A jury in federal court in Brooklyn took less than five hours to find 58-year-old Keith Raniere guilty on all counts of sex-trafficking and coercing women into sex. “Raniere was truly a modern-day Svengali,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said outside court, calling him a lying manipulator who “ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives.” Raniere, a short, bespectacled figure who wore pullover sweaters in court, listened attentively but showed no reaction as he learned the verdict. His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said Raniere plans to appeal. He could get 15 years to life in prison at sentencing Sept. 25. “It’s a very sad day for him,” Agnifilo said. “I think he’s not surprised, but he maintains that he didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”

4 charged in downing of airliner

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands — International prosecutors announced murder charges Wednesday against four men — three of them Russians with military or intelligence backgrounds — in the missile attack that blew a Malaysia Airlines jet out of the sky over Ukraine five years ago, killing all 298 people aboard. The case, built with the help of wiretaps, radar images and social media posts, marks the most significant step yet toward tying the tragedy to Moscow, which has backed the pro-Russian separatists fighting to seize control of eastern Ukraine. In announcing the charges, prosecutors appealed for witnesses to help lead them even further up the chain of command in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The trial for the defendants was set for next March in the Netherlands, though it appeared unlikely any of them would be brought before the court, since Russia and Ukraine forbid the extradition of their citizens.

Lawmakers debate reparations

WASHINGTON — The debate over reparations catapulted from the campaign trail to Congress on Wednesday as lawmakers heard impassioned testimony for and against the idea of providing compensation for America’s history of slavery and racial discrimination. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the sponsor of a resolution to study reparations, put a fine point on the discussion: “I just simply ask: Why not and why not now?” It was Congress’ first hearing on reparations in more than a decade, and came amid a growing conversation both in the Democratic Party and the country at large about lingering racial disparities in the United States. Once considered a fringe topic, mostly pushed aside in Congress, the possibility of reparations was treated with seriousness by the witnesses and lawmakers alike, though Republicans made clear their opposition. One of the most striking moments came as writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of a widely read 2014 essay making the case for reparations, challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assertion that no one alive today is responsible for the past treatment of black Americans. “It’s impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery,” Coates told the House Judiciary panel.

Mexico’s senate approves deal

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ratify a new free trade agreement with the United States and Canada, making it the first of the three countries to gain legislative approval. Mexico’s upper chamber voted 114 to four with three abstentions in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. U.S. President Donald Trump had demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement that it will replace. Mexican President AndrÈs Manuel L¯pez Obrador said in a recorded message that the vote was “very good news.” “It means foreign investment in Mexico, it means jobs in Mexico, it means guaranteeing trade of the merchandise that we produce in the United States,” he said. Mexico’s economy ministry in a statement said that with the approval “Mexico sends a clear message in favor of an open economy and of deepening its economic integration in the region.”

Phoenix chief promises change

PHOENIX — The Phoenix police chief promised change in her department after being booed by people gathered to discuss the video of officers who pointed guns and shouted obscenities at a black family they suspected of shoplifting. The meeting Tuesday night at a downtown church was called by the city to address the video, which was taken by a bystander who watched as police confronted Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, who was holding their 1-year-old daughter. The couple say their 4-year-old daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge. “Real change starts with the community,” Police Chief Jeri Williams said to a sometimes-hostile crowd comprised mainly of black and Hispanic residents. “Real change starts with the firing of the officers! Fire them!” one woman shouted toward the stage, where Williams, who is herself black, was seated next to Mayor Kate Gallego and other city leaders. Williams tried to assure the people that the meeting would not be the last.

Majority worry about meddling

RALEIGH, N.C. — A majority of Americans are concerned that a foreign government might interfere in some way in the 2020 presidential election, whether by tampering with election results, stealing information or by influencing candidates or voter opinion, a new poll shows. The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds Democrats far more likely to express the highest level of concern, but Democrats and Republicans alike have at least some concerns about interference. Overall, half of Americans say they’re extremely or very concerned about foreign interference in the form of altered election results or voting systems, even though hackers bent on causing widespread havoc at polling places face challenges in doing so. An additional quarter is somewhat concerned. Similarly, about half are very concerned by the prospect of foreign governments influencing political candidates or affecting voters’ perceptions of the candidates, along with hacking candidate computer systems to steal information. In total, the poll, conducted Thursday through Monday, shows 63% of Americans have major concerns about at least one of those types of foreign election interference, including 80% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans.

Hicks rebuffs interview questions

WASHINGTON — Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks on Wednesday refused to answer questions related to her time in the White House in an interview with the House Judiciary Committee, dimming Democrats’ chances of obtaining new or substantive information about President Donald Trump as part of their investigation into obstruction of justice. Frustrated Democrats taking breaks from the meeting said Hicks and her lawyer were following White House orders to stay quiet about her time there working for Trump. She was answering some questions about her time on Trump’s campaign, the lawmakers said. “She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record,” said California Rep. Karen Bass. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called her answers “a farce.” California Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted about the interview, writing that Hicks refused to answer even innocuous questions such as whether she had previously testified before Congress and where her office was located in the White House. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said she asked Hicks if she had been aware of any outreach from the Russians during the campaign. After Hicks responded no, Dean named apparent contacts, such as emails, some of which are mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Hicks said she hadn’t thought those contacts were “relevant.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Hicks’ lawyers had asserted the White House’s principle that as one of Trump’s close advisers she is “absolutely immune” from talking about her time there because of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Nadler said that principle is “ridiculous” and Democrats intend to “destroy” it in court.

Tax money funds campaigns

SEATTLE — On a muggy spring morning, Seattle City Council candidate Pat Murakami weaves through front yards and porches, knocking on doors in a gritty but gentrifying neighborhood. It’s a tradition for political hopefuls. And for Murakami, a two-time council contender, it’s her main fundraising strategy, thanks to a first-of-its-kind program allowing Seattle voters to give candidates taxpayer money to fuel their campaigns. “I would have been a complete non-contender without the program,” she said of her first race in 2017, when she beat six other primary candidates before losing the general election. Now entering its second election, Seattle’s voter voucher-based campaign financing program is drawing national attention with support from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York and presidential contender who proposes duplicating it at the federal level. It’s one of at least eight public campaign finance programs enacted by city and county governments across the U.S. since 2015. Seattle officials mail each voter four $25 “Democracy Vouchers” that they can give to City Council or city attorney candidates, split among different candidates, or choose not to donate. Voucher money not used by voters remains in city coffers.

Navy to name new destroyer

HONOLULU — The U.S. Navy will christen a new guided missile destroyer, the USS Daniel Inouye, during a ceremony in Maine. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii will speak at Saturday’s ceremony in Bath, Maine. Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, will be the ship’s sponsor. The Arleigh Burke-class ship is being named after the war hero and politician who broke racial barriers in Congress. Inouye represented Hawaii in the U.S. Senate for a half-century until his death in 2012. He played key roles in congressional investigations of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals and served as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He received the Medal of Honor for bravery in World War II with the mostly Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

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