California fires: largest blaze threatens Santa Barbara and prompts evacuation

Residents of coastal towns ordered to evacuate early Sunday, as Thomas fire edges closer to Santa Barbara after blackening 155,000 acres

The largest California wildfire advanced on coastal towns near Santa Barbara on Sunday, stoked by gusty breezes and dry conditions that have fueled destructive blazes across the south of the state.

Authorities ordered residents in parts of Carpinteria and Montecito to evacuate early on Sunday as the Thomas fire edged closer to the city of Santa Barbara, about 100 miles west of Los Angeles. The blaze had already blackened 155,000 acres and consumed hundreds of structures.

Half a dozen fires have raged across California since early the coming week. Governor Jerry Brown issued emergency proclamations for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, freeing up additional resources to fight the infernos.

Officials said smoking from the fires was causing unhealthy air for large parts of southern California. The flare-up on Sunday in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties sent up a new plume that added to heavy smoke already choking regions around the cities of Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Paula.

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District said air quality was especially bad in the Ojai Valley, where it has at times reached hazardous levels. To the south-east, regulators cautioned on Saturday of unhealthy air across parts of greater Los Angeles. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to avoid vigorous outdoor activities.

Brown visited Ventura County on Saturday and said deadly and destructive wildfires in wintertime were” the new normal “.

At a news conference, the governor said drought and climate change meant California faces a” new reality” where lives and property are constantly threatened by fire, at a cost of billions of dollars. He added that there was a good chance of ensure” firefighting at Christmas” this year.

It will take “heroic” efforts in the US and abroad, Brown said, to stem climate change. The governor, who strongly criticised Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal in an interview with CBS due to be broadcast on Sunday evening, exhorted US lawmakers to pay more attention to dealing with natural disasters such as fires, deluges and earthquakes.

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Why are California’s wildfires so out of control?- video explainer

This week, Trump issued a federal proclamation that enabled agencies to coordinate relief efforts in southern California.

At least one home in Carpinteria burned down on Sunday, the Santa Barbara County fire department said. The flame was only 15% contained as of Sunday morning, in agreement with the California department of forestry and fire protection( Cal Fire ).

Top wind velocities were forecast to increase to 55 mph on Sunday from 40 mph on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service( NWS ). Such gusts, coupled with the rugged mountain terrain above Santa Barbara and Ventura districts, have hampered firefighting efforts, authorities said.

The flames have forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people and destroyed nearly 800 structures. A 70 -year-old woman died on Wednesday in a car accident as she tried to flee the flames in Ventura County.

The Thomas fire, the largest blaze, had left nearly 90,000 clients without power as of early Sunday morning, Southern California Edison said on its website.

The 8,5000 firefighters battling the fires that have burned over the past week gained some ground on Saturday. Both the Creek and Rye flames in Los Angeles County were 90% contained by Sunday morning, officers said, while the Skirball fire in Los Angeles was 75% contained. North of San Diego, the 4,100 -acre Lilac fire was 60% contained.

A brush flame broke out on Saturday night in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County, inspiring temporary evacuations, the US Forest Service said on Twitter. A group of Boy scout camping in the field were among those evacuated, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Crews knocked down the three-acre blaze and no structures were reported injury, the city of Monrovia said on its website.

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Macron tells Netanyahu that US recognition of Jerusalem is threat to peace

Call comes as Palestinian human stabs Israeli security guard following Donald Trumps announcement about Jerusalem

Emmanuel Macron, the French chairman, has warned US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was a” threat to peace” as he hosted the country’s “ministers “, Benjamin Netanyahu, on his first foreign trip since Donald Trump provoked widespread censure with the decision.

The joint appearance by the two men, following talks in Paris, came as tear gas was used to disperse protesters outside the US embassy in Beirut and a Palestinian human stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s central bus station in the first assault in the city since Trump’s announcement.

Palestinian media identified the assailant as 24 -year-old Yasin Abu al-Qur’a from a village near Nablus in the northern West Bank, who reportedly posted on Facebook hours earlier mentioning Jerusalem. Police described as a terrorist attack.

Trump last week declared the US would recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, violating the international consensus on one of the most sensitive issues in relations between Israel and the Palestinians – who wish the capital of a future Palestinian nation to be in the east of the city.

Macron said he had told Netanyahu that Trump’s statement on Jerusalem” is a threat to peace and we are against it” and suggested that an Israeli freeze on settlement house would be an important gesture, proving Israel was committed to peace.

In uncompromising remarks unlikely to calm the ongoing crisis, Netanyahu replied by saying that the sooner Palestinians recognised the reality that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, the sooner there would be peace.

He also lashed out at the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying he would not” take lecturings” from someone who bombs Kurdish villages, supportings Iran and “terrorists” in Gaza.

Several rockets were fird from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Thursday and Friday following Trump’s declaration, resulting Israel to respond with airstrikes that killed two people.

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Why is recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital so contentious?

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Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians , none is as sensitive as the situation of women Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab nations, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s borders and annexed it- an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy place, as its” united and eternal” capital. For their portion, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian nation. The unequivocal international position, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sets the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east- considered illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/ AFP

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Macron has been resulting European criticism of the US decision and rang Trump before his announcement to alert him of the likely damaging outcomes for the Palestinian peace process. Before Netanyahu’s visit, he and Erdogan spoke by telephone about a joint diplomatic approach to try to persuade the US to row back on Jerusalem.

He began his pre-prepared remarks alongside Netanyahu with a clear disapproval” of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel .”

Graphic footage of the incident in Jerusalem demonstrated the attacker calmly handing his coat to the security guard before abruptly plunging a large knife into the guard’s chest. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious meander to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.

In Beirut, meanwhile, Lebanese security force broke up a protest outside the heavily guarded US embassy with teargas after demonstrators pelted them with stones.

Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, lit flames in the street and threw objects at members of the security forces who had barricaded the main road to the embassy.

Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist party, Hanna Gharib, declared Washington” the enemy of Palestine” and said the embassy was ” a emblem of imperialist aggressivenes” that must be closed.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, defended Trump’s decision saying it reflected his appreciation for such facts on the ground and – without devoting details – that it would advance peace talks.

” You’ve got the parliament, the president, the cabinet of ministers, the supreme court, so why shouldn’t we have the embassy there ?” she told CBS.

” When you recognise the truth, when both parties recognise reality, peace comes. We are living in the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel .”

She said US allies in the Middle East are the most worried about Iran’s growing influence in the region, where Washington was ” in lockstep” with them.

The US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has nevertheless infuriated the Arab world and upset western friends, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and dangers causing further unrest.

The Vatican on Sunday said Pope Francis was praying so that” leaders of nations” commit themselves to work to” forestalls a new spiraling of violence” over Jerusalem. Its statement reiterated the Vatican position on” the essential need for respecting the status quo “.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967, to be occupied territory. They say the status of the city should be left to be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Netanyahu is on Monday due in Brussels where he will fulfill the EU foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, and hold a working breakfast with 27 EU foreign ministers. Before he left Israel for Europe he was critical of EU leaders, who have also condemned the building of Israeli settlements in West Bank.

” While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a doubled criterion from it ,” Netanyahu said on Saturday evening.” I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it. I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy .”

Arab League foreign ministers met for hours on Saturday to denounce the US decision as illegitimate and unlawful, but appeared to have held back from taking any new measures.

The Arab League chief, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said Trump’s decision was ” against international law and raises questions over American efforts to support peace” between Palestine and Israel.

The shift in US policy undermined Arab confidence in the Trump administration and amounted to the legalisation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, he added.

The pastors reiterated that such a move had no legal impact and was void, adding:” it deepens tension, kindles anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos .”

The ministers agreed to” demand that the United States rescind its decision on Jerusalem … and the calling on the international community to recognise the state of Palestine … with east Jerusalem as its capital ,” said the statement.

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Aftershocks detected after North Korea nuclear test moved Earth’s crust

Tremors picked up on Saturday probably from regimes experiment in September, US Geological Survey says

Two minor tremors saw on Saturday from North Korea were probably aftershocks from the country’s massive nuclear exam in early September, a US Geological Survey official said.

The aftershocks were magnitude 2.9 and 2.4, said the USGS and Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

A tweet from Zerbo said analysts had confirmed the activity was ” tectonic” in origin.

The USGS official said the tremors had been in the vicinity of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where North Korea conducted its sixth and largest underground nuclear exam on 3 September.

” They’re probably relaxation events from the sixth nuclear exam ,” the official said.” When you have a large nuclear exam, it moves the Earth’s crust around the area, and it takes a while for it to fully subside. We’ve had a few of them since the sixth nuclear exam .”

Pyongyang said the September test was of an H-bomb, and experts have estimated it was 10 times more powerful than the US atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945.

A series of earthquakes since then has prompted experts and observers to suspect the test had an opportunity to injury the mountainous locating of its site in the north-west tip of North Korea, where all of the country’s nuclear tests have been conducted.

South Korea’s spy agency told its lawmakers in October that North Korea might be readying two more passageways at the site.

North Korea hinted its next nuclear exam could be above ground after Donald Trump advised in September that the US would” wholly destroy” North Korea if it threatened America.

Another possible obstacle to North Korea’s use of Punggye-ri for tests is the nearby active volcano of Mount Paektu, which North Koreans consider a sacred site. Its last eruption was in 1903, and experts have debated whether nuclear testing could trigger another.

North Korea’s official media reported on Saturday that national leader Kim Jong-un had scaled Mount Paektu with senior military officials to” emphasise his military vision” after completion of the country’s nuclear force.

Kim declared the nuclear force-out complete after the test of North Korea’s largest ever intercontinental ballistic missile last month, which experts said puts all of America within range.

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US believed it would ‘undoubtedly win’ war with North Korea in 1994 but with huge casualties

Declassified document predicted massive losses for US and South and Pyongyang has since made dramatic steps in nuclear and missile technology

Declassified documents published under Friday show that the United States believed its military and South Korea’s forces would” undoubtedly win” a conflict on the divided Korean peninsula, during a 1994 standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

But long before North Korea had developed nuclear weapons, the Pentagon estimated that some 490,000 South Korean service members and 52,000 US personnel would be killed or wounded in the first three months of any conflict.

The assessment does not mention North Korean and civilian casualties, but analysts say loss would be enormous.

Today, with North Korea almost able to directly threatened the US mainland with nuclear ten-strikes, the possibility of conflict looms as it did in 1994.

At that time, President Bill Clinton’s administration considered a cruise missile ten-strike on a Northern korean nuclear complex after it began defuelling a reactor that could offer fissile material for bombs for the first time. Former president Jimmy Carter headed off a conflict, meeting with the founding North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, and helping seal an aid-for-disarmament arrangement. The pact suffered for nearly a decade, despite frequent disputes and periodic flare-ups on the peninsula.

” We had taken a very strong position that we would not permit North Korea to make a nuclear bomb ,” William Perry, who was defense secretary during the course of its crisis, said this week.” We have said that many times since then, but then we really meant it .”

A declassified transcript published by the National Security Archiveat George Washington University records Perry’s discussion on the standoff with South Korea’s president in 1998. Perry was by then Clinton’s special envoy for North Korea.

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Why does the North Korean regime pursue a nuclear programme?

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Much of the regime’s domestic legitimacy rests on portraying the country as under constant threat from the US and its regional friends, South Korea and Japan.

To support the claim that it is in Washington’s crosshairs, North Korea cites the tens of thousands of US troops lined up along the southern side of the demilitarised zone- the heavily fortified border dividing the Korean peninsula. Faced with what it says are US provocations, North Korea says it has as much right as any other state to develop a nuclear deterrent.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is also aware of the fate of other despots who lack nuclear weapons.

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Perry told the then chairwoman, Kim Dae-jung, that the US had planned for a military showdown and that” with the combined forces of the ROK and US, we can undoubtedly win the war “. ROK refers to the abbreviation of the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

Speaking to South Korea’s Kim, who pursued a “sunshine” policy of diplomatic outreach to North Korea, Perry said the” war involves many casualties in the process. As a former defense secretary, I am well aware of the negative aspects of war, and will do my best to avoid war .”

Since then, North Korea has made dramatic advances in its nuclear and weapon growth, particularly under its current young leader, Kim Jong-un. Last month, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile with a likely scope of more than 8,000 miles( 13,000 km ), moving it closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped bullet that they are able strike all corners of the US mainland.

Trump has not ruled out using force to stop the North from achieving that capability if diplomacy fails. The US has stepped up members of the military drills with friends, which Pyongyang condemns as preparations for invasion. This week, the US and South Korea held air force drills involving more than 200 aircraft, including six US F-2 2 and 18 F-3 5 stealth fighters.

North Korea’s foreign ministry alerted this week:” The remaining topic now is: when will the war break out .”

Speaking at an Arms Control Association briefing in Washington, Perry exhorted a renewed attempt at diplomacy, which he said would not get North Korea to give up its nukes in short order, but could lower the likelihood of war.

He said that a nuclear-armed North Korea would not attack America but may be emboldened in military provocations against South Korea that could spiral into a wider conflict. The US could itself blunder into a nuclear war if it undertook a conventional military ten-strike on North Korea that inspired the North to assault the South, he said.

” An all-out war with North Korea, nuclear war, even if China and Russia did not enter ,” Perry said,” could still entail casualties approximating those of World War I or even World War II .”

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The rise and fall of Al Franken: from comedy to politics to disgrace

The Minnesota senator had begun to attain his mark on Capitol Hill as an incisive and amusing presence, but those who knew him alerted he came here with baggage

When Al Franken was mooted as a possible dark horse in the 2020 presidential election, those who knew him warned that he comes with baggage. They little guessed how much.

The Democratic senator announced on Thursday that he will resign in the coming weeks following a string of sex misconduct accusations. It marked a dizzying rise and fall for the comedian-turned-politician whose legacy on Capitol Hill will be heatedly contested.

In his farewell address on the Senate floor, Franken sought to portray himself as a victim.” Some of the allegations against me are simply not true ,” he said defiantly.” Others I remember very differently … But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota .”

Not all the people of Minnesota have been taken by surprise by the events of the past three weeks, however. Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said:” I didn’t know of any of these accusations but he’s a very self-confident person who guess of himself as special. With some of the accusations you see that: what he felt was being goofy or having his style was clearly unacceptable .”

Franken, 66, who grew up in the Jewish community in St Louis Park, a suburbium of Minneapolis ,~ ATAGEND had appeared to be a phase in favour of the debate that politics is enriched by people from varied and colourful backgrounds rather than career politicians.

He first stimulated his name 40 years ago as a writer and musician on the TV slapstick show Saturday Night Live and was twice a guest performer at the White House correspondents’ dinner . He also worked as a talkshow host and wrote books such as Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

Then came an abrupt turning when Franken ran for the Senate in 2008. He went to Jeff Blodgett ,~ ATAGEND who operated the late Paul Wellstone’s Senate campaigns, for advice. Blodgett commented on Thursday:” I would hope that Al Franken would get credit for growing into a senator of real substance, someone who dug deep on issues like net neutrality, mental health and veterans affairs, a senator who paid close attention to his country, and a consistent progressive voice during a tough era for our country .”

During the election campaign Republican attempted to turn his old jokes against him, but in vain. The Democrat creaked home by 312 referendums after an eight-month legal battle. But anyone expecting him to become court jester in the Senate was in for a letdown .~ ATAGEND

Al Franken on election night in November 2008 Photograph: Craig Lassig/ EPA

Facing scepticism over whether he possessed the necessary grativas, Franken chose he had to prove himself as” a workhorse and not a indicate horse”, he recalled in a recent memoir, Giant of the Senate. He subjected himself to what he calls” the DeHumorizer” and became a polished politician who steered clear of reporters.

” Possibly the most ridiculous Politician Skill I had to learn … was how to’ fulcrum ,’ which basically means’ not answer questions ‘,” he writes. But there were occasional lapsings, such as the time he rolled his eyes at the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” As soon as Mitch had finished his speech, he marched up to the podium and let me know he was furious, as he had every right to be.’ This isn’t’ Saturday Night Live ,’ Al !'”

Meanwhile Franken induced significant contributions to policy, including to Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Jacobs said:” There’s no doubt Al Franken is very bright, “hes having” genuine interest in public policy and he worked hard to prove to his constituents and his fellow senators that he was worthy .”

It paid off. Franken was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2014. He allowed the mask to slip a little, letting himself be funny again and more media friendly. Thus liberated, he also became one of the Democrats’ hardest hitters, pummeling the education secretary, Betsy DeVos ,~ ATAGEND us attorney general Jeff Sessions and supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch during confirmation hearings.

He also took on unfashionable causes such as net neutrality, and his recent grilling of Facebook and Google over Russian election interference was at once sardonic and incisive, amusing and devastating.

But the inner jester was still there and so were its dark secrets. Allegations began to emerge last month when Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 United Service Organisations tour. He apologised and called for himself to be investigated, but over day a further seven women came forward with asserts about inappropriate behaviour.

On Wednesday more than 30 Democratic Senators called for Franken to stand down .~ ATAGEND No amount of “pivoting” could save him from his past. Jacobs said:” His career was in an industry where outrageous behaviour and sexual aggressivenes have a free rein and the commission has caught up with him with a vengeance. It’s a sad day: he put their own lives on hold and now his career in politics appears to be over. There’s nothing to celebrate .”

During an interview with the Guardian at a cafe in St Paul in September, a casually dressed Franken showed a down-to-earth side of his personality, relating how he had just been to the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp with his son. A stranger approached him and said:” I’m this close to asking for your autograph but the memory will be enough .” Franken graciously insisted on an autograph.

Reaction in his home country is mixed, Jacobs said, with conservatives generally “elated” and some liberals “hopping mad” that the senator has been pushed out of office.” I believe most Minnesotans have a heavy heart. A sense of disloyalty, frustration and annoyance about what’s going on in public life .”

For now, Franken has joined the ranks of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer as out of work and unemployable. But he said on Thursday:” I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice .”

Jacobs suspects he could yet attempt a third act.” He may be forced from office but I don’t think it’s the last we’ve seen of him. He may recover, re-energise and come back as a spitfire comedian looking for retaliation. I would not want to be on his enemies list .”

But some assured Franken’s farewell statements in the Senate as self-serving. His legacy is eternally tainted. Neil Sroka, spokesman for the progressive political organisation Democracy for America, which called for him to resign last week ,~ ATAGEND said:” It’s hard not to see how this doesn’t cast a cloud up what could have been an important career in the Senate, but it’s a shadow that has to exist. There’s a broad sense, at the least among Democrats, that we cannot ignore the victims of sexual harassment: their voices need to be heard .”

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‘A Christmas miracle’: heavy snow falls in southern Texas for first time in years

Frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico brought snow and sleet to unusual places

Snowfall has blanketed parts of the Deep South, including southern Texas, delighting schoolchildren and knocking out power to thousands.

Frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico brought snows and sleet to communities on the border with Mexico.

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The weather band then moved towards San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Houston, which has not considered more than an inch of snow since 2009. In Austin, temperatures dropped as low as 27 F( -3C ).

About 5in( 127 mm) of snow fell on the campus of Texas A& M University in College Station.

San Antonio received about 2in( 51 mm) of snow, the largest amount to fall in that city since January 1987.

The weather conditions were so unusual that they spawned the hashtag #TexasSnow2017.

Many Texans were unsure about what to do with the cold white stuff falling from the sky.

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Arizona congressman to resign after discussing child surrogacy with female staffers

Republican Trent Franks says he deeply regrets that workplace debate caused distress as Congress grapples with sex misconduct allegations

The Arizona congressman Trent Franks has announced he will resign from Congress at the end of January after discussing child surrogacy with female staff members.

” I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry considering my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, building each feeling uncomfortable ,” Franks said in a statement on Thursday.” I deeply regret that my discussion of this alternative and process in the workplace caused distress .”

However, the Arizona Republican insisted,” I want to make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced or had, or attempted to have, any sex linked with any member of my congressional personnel .”

Franks, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus and a staunch social conservative, said he would step down on 31 January 2018. Roll Call first reported the story.

Franks’ departure comes amid widening allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in politics and increased scrutiny over how such asserts are managed on Capitol hill.

Just hours before Franks’ proclamation, the Minnesota senator Al Franken, a Democrat, said he would resign in the coming weeks after females accused him of sexual harassment. It also came days after the departure of the Democratic congressman John Conyers, the longest-serving African American member in House history, who is facing the allegations that he made recurred unwanted sexual advances toward female staffers.

Franks, who represents a deeply conservative district and is known in Washington as an anti-abortion crusader who often cites scripture, could be seen on the House floor on Thursday huddling with his fellow Arizona Republicans David Schweikert and Andy Biggs, just after the story broke. As he walked off the floor, Franks declined to confirm to reporters that he wants to resign.

” I’ll let the statement speak for itself ,” he said, in a rush to the elevator banks.

In his lengthy written statement, Franks said he took “full responsibility” for the way he” broached the topic, which unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain people uncomfortable “.

He also shared details about the difficulties he and his wife had had conceiving a child, including three miscarriages and two failed attempts to adopt a child before a” wonderful and loving lady” acted as a gestational surrogate for their twins. He said the process was a” pro-life approach that did not discard or throw away any embryos “.

Franks said the couple continued to look for surrogates to give their twins another sibling.

The statement ending by saying, in part:” In the midst of this current cultural and media climate I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would set me, my family and my staff and my noble colleagues in the House of Representative through hyperbolized public excoriation .”

” It is with great sadness that for the sake of the causes I deeply love, I must now step back from the combat I have spent over three decades fighting ,” Franks added.” I hope my resignation will remain distinct from the great gains we have built .”

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, said in a statement that on 29 November he had been” briefed on believable claims of misconduct by Rep. Trent Franks” that he found” serious and requiring action “. He also said that Franks, when will come forward with the accusations, did not deny them and that Ryan told him he should resign.

In background further provided by Ryan’s office, it was disclosed that an investigation was opened two weeks ago when the speaker’s general counsel was given” information about troubling behaviour by Rep. Trent Franks directed at a former staffer “.

The Arizona Republic reported that last week the congressman declined to respond to a request by the paper about whether he was aware of any legal settlements” to resolve claims against him involving sexual harassment or creating a hostile workplace for women “.

In light of the allegations in Congress, a group of lawmakers led by a alliance of bipartisan females are pushing for stricter standards for reporting sexual assault and would reform the rules around resolving harassment claims. Currently, accusations of sexual harassment in Congress are overseen by the little-known Office of Compliance, which over two decades employed approximately $17 m in taxpayer dollars to pay out settlements and awardings to federal employees.

Last week, an ethics panel in the House of Representatives demanded records of all settlements for sexual harassment attained in the lower chamber of Congress.

It was revealed that Conyers was among those who utilized the fund to softly settle a claim for $27,000 with a former staffer who said she was fired for refusing to give in to his recurred sexual advancements. It was afterward unearthed that the Texas Republican Blake Farenthold determined a 2014 sexual harassment grievance with a former female aide for $84,000. Both humen deny the allegations. The House ethics committee also announced Thursday night that it was launching an investigation into the claims against Farenthold.

The rapid succession of resignations this week is an indicator of how politically toxic the issue has become since the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused by dozens of women of sexual misconduct.

Such articles was revised on 7 December 2017. An earlier version said Trent Franks asked female staff members to act as surrogate moms. This has been changed to say that Franks discussed surrogacy with his staff member.

North Korea is ready to open direct talks with US, says Russia’s Sergei Lavrov

Lavrov says he advised Rex Tillerson in Vienna on Thursday that Pyongyang wants above all to talk to the US about guarantees for its security

North Korea is open to direct talks with the US over their nuclear standoff, according to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who said he passed that message to his counterpart, Rex Tillerson, when the two diplomats met in Vienna on Thursday.

There was no immediate response from Tillerson but the official posture of the state department is that North Korea would have to show itself to be serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal as part of a comprehensive agreement before a dialogue could begin.

Lavrov communicated the apparent offer on the day a top UN official, Jeffrey Feltman, met the Northern korean foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, in Pyongyang, during the course of its first high-level UN visit to the country for six years. Feltman is an American and a former US diplomat, but the state department stressed he was not in North Korea with any message from Washington.

” We know that North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for security and safety. We are ready to support that, we are ready to take part in facilitating such negotiations ,” Lavrov said at an international conference in Vienna, according to the Interfax news agency.” Our American colleagues,[ including] Rex Tillerson, have heard this .”

The diplomatic moves come amid an increased sense of urgency to find a way of defusing the tensions over North Korea’s increasingly ambitious nuclear and missile exams. The standoff reached a new peak on 29 November, when North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile( ICBM ), the Hwasong-1 5, capable of reaching Washington, New York and the rest of the continental United States. The missile launching followed the test of what was apparently a hydrogen bomb in September.

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The Hwasong-1 5 rocket fired on 29 November flew on a steep trajectory for 50 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,800 miles( 4,500 km) and distance of 620 miles, according to North Korea.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said that if the numbers were correct, then the missile would have a range of 8,080 miles on a standard trajectory. That figure suggests that all of the US could theoretically be within range.

The missile appears to be an advanced version of the Hwasong-1 5 ICBM tested in July by North Korea, which claims this version stimulates it a “complete” nuclear state.

Pyongyang has not, however, proved it has the capability to marry a miniaturised nuclear warhead with a long-range rocket and send it at a trajectory that would reached US cities.

It also remains unclear whether the Northern korean have perfected a re-entry vehicle capable of protecting a nuclear warhead during its descent.

Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/ X90173

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Pyongyang has said that current joint exercises by the US and South Korea involving hundreds of warplanes, along with” bellicose statements” by US officials have” made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact “.

” The remaining topic now is: when will the war break out ,” a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

North Korean officials have said in recent informal meetings that they are particularly concerned by the threat of a astonish “decapitation” strike, is targeted at killing the country’s leaders and paralysing military command and control systems before Pyongyang could launch its missiles.

The heightened tensions and threatening language have increased anxieties around the world that the two sides could blunder into war through miscalculation, mistaking war games for a real assault or misreading blurred red lines.

US and Northern korean postures are currently far apart, with Pyongyang rejecting any suggestion that its nuclear disarmament would be on the table at any future negotiation. The regime wants the US to recognise it as a nuclear weapons power and discontinue its” hostile policies” to North Korea, including sanctions and military manoeuvres off the Korean peninsula.

For its part, the US has rejected a “freeze-for-freeze” proposal advanced by Russia and China, by which North Korea would suspend nuclear and missile exams while the US would curtail its military exercises.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday that direct talks with North Korea were” not on the table until they are willing to denuclearize .”

A photo released by the Northern korean Central News Agency shows the launch of the inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-1 5 on 29 November. Photograph: KCNA/ EPA

However, the two sides have had informal contacts this year, involving Joseph Yun, the US special representative for North Korea policy. Those contacts, known as the” New York channel” were cut by the Northern korean after threatening statements by Donald Trump during the UN general assembly in September. But there have been some recent signs that Pyongyang might be interested in restoring the channel.

At a session in Stockholm that brought together western experts and officials from Pyongyang in late November, a North Korean representative appeared to raise, for the first time, the possibility of a channel for military-to-military communications with the US.

” In an informal discussion that we had in Stockholm, an official made an observation that there isn’t at present a style for the US and North Korea to work together to prevent an accident. I thought that was an interesting observation that I had not heard them say before ,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America thinktank who has played a leading role in back-channel contacts with Iran and North Korea, and who attended the Stockholm meeting.

” I believe the US would be best served by putting aside the focus on denuclearisation and instead look at ways to prevent collisions, reduce risks and de-escalate. Those to me seem like achievable aims .”

Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who was director for Korea, Japan and Oceanic affairs at the National Security Council in the Bush and Obama administrations, said Washington might be amenable to such a military hotline being established.

” I suppose even this administration does recognize that some sort of an open channel is needed for that , not to negotiate but to have a little more transparency ,” she said.” I think everyone recognises that is needed .”

Terry, who was deputy national intelligence officer for east Asia at the National Intelligence Council from 2009 to 2010, said that it was also possible that Yun could re-establish the New York channel with Pyongyang. But she added there was little sign such contacts would lead to substantive negotiations in the current climate.

” This latest exam put a big hole in the possibility of negotiation at this moment, she said.” Ambassador Yun might do that but it’s different with the White House. I’m not sure he has strong White House supporting .”

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Oliver Schmidt jailed for seven years for Volkswagen emissions scam

Judge in Detroit enforces $400,000 fine on former VW executive after German was apprehended trying to return home from vacation in Florida

A senior Volkswagen executive was sentenced to seven years in prison by a US court on Wednesday after being found guilty of disguising software used to evade pollution limits on virtually 600,000 diesel vehicles.

Oliver Schmidt, a German national who was the general manager in charge of VW’s environmental and engineering office in Michigan, had pleaded guilty to his part in the cover-up and argued he was ” misused” by VW in its attempts to circumvent US emissions tests.

But at the sentencing in Detroit judge Sean Cox sided with the prosecution.” It is my opinion that you are a key conspirator in this scheme to defrauds the United States ,” Cox told Schmidt in court.” You saw this as your opportunity to glisten … and climb the corporate ladder at VW .”

Schmidt read a written statement in tribunal acknowledging his remorse and broke down when discussing his family’s sacrifices on his behalf since his arrest in January.
” I attained bad decisions and for that I am sorry ,” he said.

Alongside the sentence Schmidt was fined $400,000. Both the incarcerate term and the fine were at the top aim of sentencing guidelines.

Schmidt, who oversaw emissions at VW’s office in Michigan from 2012 to early 2015, met with key California regulators in 2015 but did not disclose the rascal software.

The government said he subsequently misinformed US investigators and destroyed documents. Schmidt’s lawyers argued that his role merely heated up in 2015, years after others at VW hatched the scheme, which contravened the Clean Air Act.

” The defendant has a leadership role within VW ,” federal officials said.” As a consequence of that role, he was literally in the room for important decisions during the height of the criminal strategy .”

VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March and agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines.

Schmidt, who had returned to Germany, was arrested in Florida in January after attempting to return home from a vacation following the filing of an FBI complaint.

He is the highest-ranking VW employee to be convicted in the strategy in the US and the chances that the US authorities will prosecute more senior VW executives are slim as most are in Germany, which is unlikely to extradite its citizens to stand trial in the US.

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‘Enough is enough’: leading Democrats call on Al Franken to quit

Minnesota senator, 66, recommended by several female my fellow members to resign as allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior mount

Half a dozen female Democratic senators have called on Al Franken to resign, as other women stepped forward to accuse the Minnesota Democrat of sexually inappropriate behavior. They were joined by the minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, and the national party chair, Tom Perez, who also called on Franken to step down.

Franken’s office said he would make a public statement- expected to include a response to the calls- on Thursday. One Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, said he expected Franken to” announce his resignation tomorrow “.

In Facebook posts, tweets and public statement, several Democrats advised their colleague to step aside amid widening accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against powerful humen that have roiled Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington.

” I have spent a lot of day reflecting on Senator Franken’s behaviour ,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual assault, said in a Facebook post that started the cascade of calls.” Enough is enough .”

Gillibrand was joined by Patty Murray of Washington, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kamala Harris of California and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

Those calls were swiftly echoed by other colleagues, including Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate, as well as Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, also called on Franken to resign.

” Everybody has to share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect for women in every industry and workplace, and that includes our party ,” Perez said.

Perez’s remarks came less than 36 hours after the Republican National Committee renewed its support for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate who is facing multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls and women, including sexual assault.

While many national Republican have distanced themselves from the Alabama Republican, he has approved by Donald Trump. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has called on Moore to drop out, has said the Alabama Republican would face an ethics investigation if elected.

McConnell issued a statement calling for Franken to step down:” The near daily barrage of allegations of sexual misconduct against Senator Franken are extremely concerning to all of us in the Senate. While the Senate ethics committee is reviewing these serious allegations, it now appears that Senator Franken has lost the support of his colleagues, and most importantly, his constituents. I do not believe he can effectively serve the person or persons of Minnesota in the US Senate any longer .”

Hours afterward, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, weighed in to say he too believed Franken should resign. In a brief statement, Schumer said:” I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately .”

Franken, 66, who has been accused by multiple other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, has apologized for his behaviour and asked the Senate ethics committee to analyse himbut the senators said elected official must be held to a higher standard, putting his political future in question. Franken did not appear in the Senate on Monday.

” This institution has evolved over centuries, it’s evolved over my virtually three decades of service, and it’s evolving once more before our very eyes ,” said Murray, a member of Democratic leadership.

” This current evolution is long overdue. It’s time for us as elected representatives to hold ourselves to a higher criterion, to define two examples, and to live a situated of values that is truly representative and worthy of the Congress, our republic, and our great country .”

Hirono tweeted:” Today, I am calling on my colleague Al Franken to step aside. I’ve fought with this decision because he’s been a good senator and I consider him a friend. But that cannot excuse his behaviour and his mistreatment of women .”

Harris posted:” Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down .”

Earlier on Tuesday, Politico reported on a new accusation against Franken. A former Democratic congressional aide said the former comedian tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, as he was ramping up his campaign for the US Senate, according to Politico. The aide dodged his advance and alleged that Franken said as she left:” It’s my right as an entertainer .” Franken denied the accusation to Politico.

The calls for Franken to resign come one day after John Conyers, the longest-serving Democrat in Congress, resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Conyers, who was the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee and spend over a half-century on Capitol Hill, had settled one claim of sexual harassment against him with taxpayer money and had been accused of misconduct by several other former staffers.

Two other members of Congress currently face allegations of sexual harassment: Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas and Democrat Ruben Kihuen of Nevada.

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