Federal workers face grim prospect of lengthy shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) — Three days, maybe four. That’s how long Ethan James, 21, says he can realistically miss work before he’s struggling.
So as the partial government shutdown stretched into its sixth day with no end in sight, James, a minimum-wage contractor sidelined from his job as an office worker at the Interior Department, was worried. “I live check to check right now,” he said, and risks missing his rent or phone payment. Contractors, unlike most federal employees, may never get back pay for being idled. “I’m getting nervous,” he said.
Federal workers and contractors forced to stay home or work without pay are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse affecting hundreds of thousands of them. For those without a financial cushion, even a few days of lost wages during the shutdown over President Donald Trump’s border wall could have dire consequences.
As well, the disruption is starting to pinch citizens who count on a variety of public services, beyond those who’ve been finding gates closed at national parks. For example, the government won’t issue new federal flood insurance policies or renew expiring ones.
Trump and congressional leaders appear no closer to a resolution over his demand for $5 billion for the border wall that could now push the shutdown into the new year. The House and Senate gaveled in for a perfunctory session Thursday, but quickly adjourned without action. No votes are expected until next week, and even that’s not guaranteed. Lawmakers are mostly away for the holidays and will be given 24-hour notice to return, with Republican senators saying they won’t vote until all parties, including Trump, agree to a deal.
Furious Iraqi lawmakers demand US troop withdrawal
BAGHDAD (AP) — President Donald Trump’s surprise trip to Iraq may have quieted criticism at home that he had yet to visit troops in a combat zone, but it has infuriated Iraqi politicians who on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“Arrogant” and “a violation of national sovereignty” were but a few examples of the disapproval emanating from Baghdad following Trump’s meeting Wednesday with U.S. servicemen and women at the al-Asad Airbase.
Trips by U.S. presidents to conflict zones are typically shrouded in secrecy and subject to strict security measures, and Trump’s was no exception. Few in Iraq or elsewhere knew the U.S. president was in the country until minutes before he left.
But this trip came as curbing foreign influence in Iraqi affairs has become a hot-button political issue in Baghdad, and Trump’s perceived presidential faux-pas was failing to meet with the prime minister in a break with diplomatic custom for any visiting head of state.
On the ground for only about three hours, the American president told the men and women with the U.S. military that Islamic State forces have been vanquished, and he defended his decision against all advice to withdraw U.S. troops from neighboring Syria, He said the U.S. was once again respected as a nation, and declared: “We’re no longer the suckers, folks.”
Japan falls, other Asian stocks gain after Wall Street rally
BEIJING (AP) — Most Asian stock markets gained while Japan edged down following Wall Street’s rally at the end of a turbulent week.
KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5 percent to 2,495.16 points while Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 lost 0.6 percent to 19,964.54. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.2 percent to 25,531.63 and Seoul’s Kospi added 0.6 percent to 2,040.76. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 5,634.30 and benchmarks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Southeast Asia also rose.
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks staged a last-minute turnaround that put the market on track to end the volatile week with a gain. That followed the market’s best day in 10 years. Health care and technology companies, banks and industrial stocks accounted for much of the gains. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.9 percent to 2,488.83 after being down 2.8 percent at midday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.1 percent to 23,138.82. The Nasdaq composite added 0.4 percent to 6,579.49. The downturn that began in October has intensified this month, erasing all of the market’s 2018 gains and nudging the S&P 500 closer to its worst year since 2008. Stocks are on track for their worst December since 1931.
ANALYST’S QUOTE: Improved U.S. sentiment “provided Asia markets with the intraday relief into the end of the week,” said Jingyi Pan of IG in a report. Still, Pan said, “one would likely flinch to call this a bottom yet,” leaving a “mixed picture as we head into the end of the year.”
CHINA PROFIT DECLINE: Profits at major Chinese industrial companies fell in November for the first time in three years amid an economic slowdown and trade tension with Washington. Government data showed profit for companies in steel, construction materials, oil, chemicals and equipment manufacturing declined 1.8 percent from a year earlier, a reverse from October’s 3.6 percent gain.
Despite #MeToo, rape cases still confound police
NEW YORK (AP) — The #MeToo movement is empowering victims of sexual assault to speak up like never before, but what should be a watershed moment for holding assailants accountable has coincided with a troubling trend: Police departments in the U.S. are becoming less and less likely to successfully close rape investigations.
The so-called “clearance rate” for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data provided to The Associated Press. That nadir may be driven, at least in part, by a greater willingness by police to correctly classify rape cases and leave them open even when there is little hope of solving them.
But experts say it also reflects the fact that not enough resources are being devoted to investigating sexual assault at a time when more victims are entrusting police with their harrowing experiences.
“This is the second-most serious crime in the FBI’s crime index,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, “and it simply doesn’t get the necessary resources from police.”
Police successfully closed just 32 percent of rape investigations nationwide in 2017, according to the data, ranking it second only to robbery as the least-solved violent crime. That statistic is down from about 62 percent in 1964, despite advances such as DNA testing.
Franklin attorney: $3 million in back taxes paid to IRS
DETROIT (AP) — Aretha Franklin’s estate has paid at least $3 million in back taxes to the IRS since her death in August, an attorney for the late Queen of Soul’s estate said Thursday.
The estate is being audited by the IRS, which filed a claim this month in a county probate court north of Detroit, David Bennett told The Associated Press.
Earlier Thursday, TMZ reported that legal documents it obtained showed the IRS claimed the singer owes more than $6.3 million in back taxes from 2012 to 2018 and $1.5 million in penalties.
“We have a tax attorney. All of her returns have been filed,” Bennett told the AP. “We have disputes with the IRS regarding what they claim was income. We claim its double-dipping income because they don’t understand how the business works.”
He added that Franklin had a lot of expenses whenever she toured.
US fossil fuel exports spur growth, climate worries
GEOJEDO, South Korea (AP) — In South Korea’s largest shipyard, thousands of workers in yellow hard hats move ceaselessly between towering cranes lifting hulks of steel. They look like a hive of bees scurrying over a massive circuit board as they weld together the latest additions to the rapidly growing fleet of tankers carrying super-chilled liquefied natural gas across the world’s oceans.
The boom in fossil-fuel production in the United States has been matched by a rush on the other side of the Pacific to build the infrastructure needed to respond to the seemingly unquenchable thirst for energy among Asia’s top economies. When Congress lifted restrictions on shipping crude oil overseas in 2015, soon after the Obama administration opened the doors for international sales of natural gas, even the most boosterish of Texas oil men wouldn’t have predicted the U.S. could become one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel exporters so quickly.
Climate experts say there is little doubt increased American production and exports are contributing to the recent rise in planet-warming carbon emissions by helping keep crude prices low, increasing consumption in developing economies.
Backers of U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, argue that the boom will produce environmental benefits because it will help China and other industrial nations wean themselves from coal and other dirtier fossil fuels.
Environmentalists counter that the massive new supplies unleashed by American advances in extracting natural gas from shale doesn’t just make coal-fired power plants less competitive. LNG also competes with such zero-carbon sources of electricity as nuclear, solar and wind — potentially delaying the full adoption of greener sources. That’s time climate scientists and researchers say the world doesn’t have if humans hope to mitigate the worst-case consequences of our carbon emissions, including catastrophic sea-level rise, stronger storms and more wildfires.
Storm whips up blizzards, dumps snow in Dakotas, Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Post-holiday travelers were finding driving difficult as a winter storm dumped heavy snow and whipped up gusty winds across parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota on Thursday.
Up to 11 inches (28 centimeters) of snow had fallen in the Moorhead-Alexandria area of western Minnesota by mid-afternoon Thursday, and it was still snowing, said meteorologist Tyler Hasenstein of the Twin Cities National Weather Service.
The line of snow ended just northwest of the Twin Cities around Elk River, Hasenstein said. The snowfall peaked around 3 inches (8 centimeters) at the Minneapolis airport, then rain starting early Thursday melted the snowpack.
Officials in North Dakota issued a no-travel advisory for the eastern part of the state due to icy roads and reduced visibility. Blustery winds were causing blizzard conditions in Jamestown, North Dakota, and in northern South Dakota, where transportation officials reported visibility was down to a quarter-mile along a stretch of Highway 10.
Bus service for Fargo, North Dakota, and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, was suspended Thursday afternoon because of worsening road conditions. Service is expected to resume Friday with a normal schedule.
Police: Man in US illegally kills California cop from Fiji
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Ronil Singh came to the U.S. from his native Fiji to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming an officer, joining a small-town police force in California and working to improve his English. The day after Christmas, he stopped another immigrant, this one in the country illegally, who shot and killed the corporal, authorities said Thursday.
Authorities said they identified but won’t yet name the man who killed Singh of the 12-person Newman Police Department on Wednesday and has not been captured. They believe the attacker is still in the area some 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco and is armed and dangerous.
“This suspect is in our country illegally. He doesn’t belong here. He is a criminal,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, whose agency is leading the investigation, told reporters.
Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson fought back tears as he described Singh, a 33-year-old with a newborn son, as an “American patriot.”
“He came to America with one purpose, and that was to serve this country,” Richardson said.
Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink customers
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Many CenturyLink customers across the U.S. were without internet Thursday amid a lengthy outage that stretched from New York to California.
The outage began early in the day and continued into the evening. CenturyLink’s network was “still experiencing a disruption,” but the telecommunications company was working to restore services, Monroe, Louisiana-based CenturyLink said in a statement.
The statement provided no other details, including the cause of the problem and how many customers were affected.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, said via Twitter it was a nationwide outage and her agency needed to investigate.
The outage knocked out 911 emergency call services in parts of western Washington state. KOMO reports that some CenturyLink customers reported receiving busy signals when dialing 911. Other areas of the country also experiencing 911 outages included parts of Missouri, Idaho and Arizona.
North Korea ‘Singapore shops’ reveal familiar sanction gaps
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Despite the unwanted publicity of a criminal trial for one of their main suppliers, business is booming at Pyongyang’s ‘Singapore shops,’ which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knock-offs from China. The stores stock many of the very things United Nations’ sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block and provide a nagging reminder that not all potential trade partners are lining up behind the U.N.’s pronouncements or the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure on the North.
Especially when there’s a buck — or a few million bucks — to be made.
The stores are anything but secret.
They are well marked, open to walk-ins and distribute their own membership cards to reward regular customers. Until recently, the name of their Singaporean partner, the OCN Group, was printed on the Bugsae shop’s plastic shopping bags. And while being the focus of the court case that could land OCN’s former director in prison for a very long time, they continue to unabashedly specialize in imported products — perfumes, fine jewelry, wines, clothing and cosmetics — that would appear to blatantly violate U.N. restrictions.
Formally known as the Potonggang Ryugyong Shop and the Bugsae Shop, the stores are a fixture of the upscale shopping scene in Pyongyang, catering to the capital’s elites, Chinese businessmen and members of the diplomatic corps. Purchases can be made in dollars, euros and Chinese yuan. The price in each is displayed digitally on the cash register.
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.