Impeachment trial begins
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump with quiet ceremony Thursday — senators standing at their desks to swear an oath of “impartial justice” as jurors, House prosecutors formally reciting the charges and Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. The trial, only the third such undertaking in American history, is unfolding at the start of the election year, a time of deep political division in the nation. Four of the senators sitting in judgment on Trump are running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge him in the fall. “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!” intoned the Senate’s sergeant at arms, calling the proceedings to order just past noon. Senators filled the chamber, an unusual sight in itself, sitting silently under strict rules that prohibit talking or cellphones, for a trial that will test not only Trump’s presidency but also the nation’s three branches of power and its system of checks and balances. The Constitution mandates the chief justice serve as the presiding officer, and Roberts made the short trip across the street from the Supreme Court to the Capitol. He has long insisted judges are not politicians and is expected to serve as a referee for the proceedings. Senators rose quickly when he appeared in his plain black robe.
Rep goes public with alopecia
NEW YORK — Rep. Ayanna Pressley, whose hair twists have been an inspiration to young girls and part of her personal identity and political brand, said Thursday that she has gone bald due to the auto immune condition alopecia. The freshman Massachusetts Democrat made a touching video for The Root, the African American-focused website, in which she revealed her bald head and said she felt compelled to go public due to the impact her Senegalese twists had on supporters. Senegalese twists are a protective hairstyle worn by black women, much like braided hairstyles. Her style was noteworthy in how Afrocentric it was. In many corporations, black women are expected to wear their hair straightened (though their hair tends to be more coily) and the legacy of black women wearing their hair close to or in its natural state is fraught and intertwined with the legacy of racism. She called her hair story “both personal and political” as she embraced her twists, but noticed back in the fall that her hair was falling out. The hair loss progressed in chunks until the night before the Dec. 18 House vote on impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, when she said she lost the last of it. “I didn’t have the luxury of mourning what felt like the loss of a limb,” Pressley said. “It was a moment of transformation not of my choosing.”
Nurse pleads in 1981 death
A former Texas nurse suspected in the killing of dozens of children pleaded guilty Thursday in the 1981 death of an 11-month-old boy, receiving a life sentence that a prosecutor said should ensure she dies in prison. Genene Jones, 69, was imprisoned in 1984 for killing one child and giving an overdose to another. She had been set for release in 2018 under a mandatory release law that was in place when she was convicted. But prosecutors in 2017, citing new evidence, filed five new murder charges against her related to the deaths of children in the early 1980s. “With this plea, the odds are she will take her last breath in prison,” prosecutor Catherine Babbitt said after the hearing in San Antonio. Children died of unexplained seizures and other complications when Jones worked at a San Antonio hospital and clinic in Kerrville, about 55 miles northwest of San Antonio. Prosecutors at Jones’ 1984 murder trial said she had injected children with drugs to demonstrate the need for a pediatric intensive care unit at a nearby hospital. Other prosecutors had theorized that her tactic was to take swift medical action and save some of her victims so she could appear to be a sort of miracle worker.
World’s only dinosaur trees saved
CANBERRA, Australia — Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney. Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildlife bore down, National Parks and Wildlife Service Director David Crust said. The firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for more than two month edged closer. Firefighting planes strategically bombed the fire front with fire retardant to slow its progress. “That helped just to slow the intensity of the fire as it approached the site,” Crust told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The Wollemi Pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and they exist in such small numbers is really significant,” he added. New South Wales state Environment Minister Matt Kean said the operation had saved the stand, although some plants had been singed. The Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilized form and was thought long extinct before the stand was found in 1994.
Coal miners end protest
PIKEVILLE, Ky. — A group of Kentucky coal miners who blocked a railroad track for three days over unpaid wages have ended their protest, claiming victory with their paychecks. Miners and their families began standing on the tracks leading from Quest Energy in Pike County on Monday, preventing a train loaded with coal from leaving. The miners said they hadn’t been paid since Dec. 16. The few miners who remained on the tracks Wednesday evening told news outlets they were leaving because they had received payment, which included overtime pay, vacation days, all other money owed to them and this week’s check in advance.
French director charged
PARIS — A French filmmaker has been charged over the alleged sexual assault of an actress when she was 15.
Director Christophe Ruggia received the preliminary charge Thursday of assault of a minor by a person in authority. Ruggia had been detained Tuesday for questioning about allegations last year made by actress Adele Haenel (pictured) concerning events in the early 2000s. Ruggia, who denies the claims, was placed under judicial control, meaning he was freed but must regularly report to officials. Preliminary charges can be thrown out at the end of the judicial investigation. Haenel, now 31 and an accomplished actress, says the director repeatedly touched her inappropriately during and after filming of the the movie “Les Diables” in the early 2000s. She said she didn’t file a legal complaint because she didn’t trust the French legal system.
It’s not easy being a green puppy
CANTON, N.C. — The Avengers may have gained a canine sidekick after a North Carolina family’s dog gave birth to a bright green puppy named “Hulk.” Gypsy, a white shepherd owned by Haywood County resident Shana Stamey, delivered eight puppies Friday morning. Gypsy’s three-hour labor was going smoothly until the fourth puppy came out as a small, but mighty tuft of lime green fur, Stamey said. “I started freaking out,” Stamey told news outlets. “But everybody was healthy.” Experts said there’s a normal explanation for the puppy’s coloration — and no, he wasn’t exposed to any gamma rays. Liquid from inside Gypsy’s stomach likely stained the white dog’s fur during pregnancy, Suzanne Cianciulli, the manager of Junaluska Animal Hospital in Waynesville, told news outlets. Regular baths and daily licks from Gypsy are expected to fade Hulk’s green hue in a few weeks, Stamey said. However the puppy’s newfound superpower, which the family has deemed an “aggressive appetite,” will likely remain.
US-Canada-Mexico trade deal OK’d
WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade agreement Thursday that rewrites the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico and gives President Donald Trump a major policy win before senators turn their full attention to his impeachment trial. The vote was 89-10. The measure goes to Trump for his signature. It would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which tore down most trade barriers and triggered a surge in trade. But Trump and other critics blamed that pact for encouraging U.S. companies to move their manufacturing plants south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican laborers. Passage of the trade bill, which has come to be called USMCA, came one day after Trump signed a new trade agreement with China, easing trade tensions between the economic powers. “Quite a week of substantive accomplishments for the nation, for the president and for our international trade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shortly before the vote. The final vote occurred just moments before Congress opened an impeachment trial, with House Democrats reading the formal charges from the well of the Senate. With the trial and an election year, Congress is not expected to pass many major bills. The trade bill gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to cite an important economic issue before the November vote.
Condoms with cheeky slogans out
SALT LAKE CITY — An HIV-awareness campaign featuring condom wrappers with cheeky slogans that put a sexy spin on state pride met a quick end in Utah as the governor ordered the health department to stop distributing them. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s intervention came hours after the designs became public on Wednesday. Herbert, a Republican, he understands the importance of educating residents about HIV prevention, but he does not approve of using sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign. The prophylactics were labeled with phrases like “The Greatest Sex on Earth,” a spin on the famous license-plate ski slogan “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” About 100,000 of the condoms were to be handed out for free through the Utah AIDS Foundation, local health departments and University of Utah clinics. Community activists also planned to place them at bars, social clubs and motels. The campaign was created with federal funds. “We’re really trying to have fun with it, get people talking,” Erin Fratto, a health program specialist at the Utah Department of Health, said before the governor’s order. “We’re pushing the envelope.” After the governor weighed in, though, the health department apologized for the “offensive” packaging, said the campaign had not gone through the necessary approval channels and authorities regretted the “lewd nature of the branding.” Wyoming and Alaska have also done similar campaigns.
Used floor mats to stay warm
BUTTE MEADOWS, Calif. — The family of a woman with dementia who survived for six days in her snowbound SUV in Northern California said they feared the worst. “We thought she was probably dead,” Laura Powell, stepdaughter of 68-year-old Paula Beth James, said. A search helicopter flying over the remote, mountainous community of Butte Meadows, about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, spotted James’ SUV on Wednesday. She disappeared Jan. 9. “It just felt like we were doomed,” Powell said. “So, it was just literally a miracle that those guys found her in just the nick of time.” The helicopter landed, and two searchers hiked in and found James inside the SUV buried in snow. A vehicle designed for traveling on snow rescued James, who was awake and conscious when deputies found her. “She looked at them and she said, ‘I’m very cold, I hope you brought a blanket,'” Powell said. James was hospitalized in stable condition, authorities said. Her family said she stayed warm by periodically turning on the car for heat and bundling up with moving blankets and floor mats from the SUV. She was severely dehydrated and developed some frostbite but is doing well, relatives said.
Holiday sales rose 4.1 percent
NEW YORK — The nation’s largest retail trade group says holiday sales increased 4.1%, the top end of its forecast. The National Retail Federation had expected growth in a range of 3.8% to 4.2% for the November and December period. The growth is nearly double the 2.1% growth seen during the holiday 2018 period, which was hurt by a government shutdown, stock market volatility and interest rate hikes. The holiday figures, announced Thursday, follow a report from the Commerce Department that retail sales rose 0.3% in December from the previous month. Excluding sales at car dealers and gas stations, sales rose 0.5%, the best in five months. The results offer a dose of optimism for the retail industry. Retailers have benefited from a strong economy and a tight job market, but many are struggling to adjust to an increasing shift among its customers toward online. They’re also battling the increasing dominance of online behemoth Amazon.com.
Poe house is literary landmark
BALTIMORE — A national association representing libraries is honoring the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. A division of the American Library Association has added the Poe house to its national registry of Literary Landmarks. The museum will host a dedication ceremony on Sunday, which coincides with the celebration of the 211th anniversary of Poe’s birth. The house is the first literary site in Maryland to be included in the registry, the organization said. Previous dedications have included the homes of Tennessee Williams, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and William Faulkner. The master of Gothic horror lived at the Baltimore house as an adult from 1833 to 1835. It became a museum in 1949 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. The museum says “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “Berenice” and “Morella” are among the stories Poe wrote at the landmark.
Arrested before gun rally
GREENBELT, Md. — A former Canadian Armed Forces reservist and two other men who authorities say are linked to a violent white supremacist group were arrested Thursday, just days before they were believed to be headed to a pro-gun rally in Virginia’s capital. The three men, members of The Base, were taken into custody on federal felony charges in Maryland and Delaware, the Justice Department said in a news release. One of the men had discussed traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists” and compared the white supremacist group to al-Qaida, a prosecutor said during the defendants’ initial court hearing. A criminal complaint charges Canadian national Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, and Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton, Maryland, is charged with “transporting and harboring aliens.” The three men were believed to be planning to attend a pro-gun rally scheduled for Monday in Richmond, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an active investigation. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and banned all types of weapons from the gun rally, citing reports that armed militia groups were planning to attend.
Top Minn. teacher takes knee
A former Minnesota Teacher of the Year staged a protest at the College Football Playoff championship attended by President Donald Trump by taking a knee during the national anthem. Kelly Holstine was among top teachers from around the country attending Monday night’s game at the Superdome in New Orleans in which LSU beat Clemson 42-25. Holstine later tweeted that she was given a “platform to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people.” “Like many before, I respectfully kneeled during Nat’l Anthem because, ‘No one is free until we are all free,'” she tweeted, quoting slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Holstine was an English teacher at a Shakopee alternative high school when she was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year for 2018-19. She is no longer a public school teacher. Last year, she and another award-winning teacher, Jessica Duenas of Kentucky, skipped a White House ceremony for the national teacher of the year to protest the Trump administration’s education policies.
Yosemite confirms norovirus cases
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Yosemite National Park is investigating about 170 reports of gastrointestinal illnesses and has confirmed two cases of norovirus. “We’ve had very few the last week or so,” park spokesman Scott Gediman said. “We’re hoping that we’re over the hump.” Norovirus is highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact with an infected person, touching a contaminated surface or eating or drinking contaminated food. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea and its symptoms are especially severe for elderly people, young children and people with health issues. Most of those who reported becoming sick in Yosemite had symptoms consistent with norovirus, although some might have had food poisoning or the flu, Gediman said. The origin of the outbreak was unclear. Most of the people who got sick had spent time in Yosemite Valley, where park offices, visitor services, snack shops, hotels and restaurants are clustered.
Server showed signs of tampering
BOSTON — A computer security expert says he found that a forensic image of the election server central to a legal battle over the integrity of Georgia elections showed signs that the original server was hacked. The server was left exposed to the open internet for at least six months, a problem the same expert discovered in August 2016. It was subsequently wiped clean in mid-2017 with no notice, just days after election integrity activists filed a lawsuit seeking an overhaul of what they called the state’s unreliable and negligently run election system. In late December 2019, the plaintiffs were finally able to obtain a copy of the server’s contents that the FBI made in March 2017 and retained — after the state allegedly dragged its feet in securing the image. State officials have said they’ve seen no evidence that any election-related data was compromised. But they also long refused to submit the server image for an independent examination. Logan Lamb, a security expert for the plaintiffs, said in an affidavit filed in Atlanta federal court on Thursday that he found evidence suggesting the server was compromised in December 2014. Lamb said the evidence suggests an attacker exploited a bug that provided full control of the server.
Trump boosts school prayer, faith
In a bid to solidify his evangelical base, President Donald Trump on Thursday vowed to protect prayer in public schools and took new steps to give religious organizations easier access to federal programs. Speaking at an Oval Office event and joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Trump unveiled the federal government’s first updated guidance on school prayer since 2003. It details scenarios in which school officials must permit prayer and clarifies the consequences if they don’t, but overall it makes few major changes to the guidance it replaces. “We will not let anyone push God from the public square,” Trump said as he introduced the new rules. “We will uphold religious liberty for all.” Hours before the event, nine Cabinet departments proposed separate rules intended to remove barriers for religious organizations participating in federal programs. Chief among the changes is the elimination of a rule requiring religious groups to refer clients to alternative organizations upon request. The proposals follow through on an executive order Trump signed in 2018 aiming to put religious groups on equal footing when they compete for federal grants, contracts and other types of funding.
Starbucks moving into poor areas
DETROIT — Starbucks has a point to prove: There’s more to the company than selling $4 lattes to rich people. The Seattle-based coffee giant that has cultivated a reputation for being socially responsible said Thursday it is expanding its effort to put more coffee shops — and create more jobs — in poor neighborhoods. Starbucks plans to open or remodel 85 stores by 2025 in rural and urban communities across the U.S. Each store will hire local staff, including construction crews and artists, and will have community event spaces. The company will also work with local United Way chapters to develop programs at each shop, such as youth job training classes and mentoring. The effort will bring to 100 the number of “community stores” Starbucks has opened since it announced the program in 2015. “All of these programs are with the intent of being purposeful and profitable,” said John Kelly, Starbucks executive vice president of public affairs and social impact.