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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 13, 2017 9:04 pm

AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT

The Associated Press

Trump's blow to 'Obamacare' jolts health consumers, politics

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump's abrupt move to cut off federal payments to insurers jolted America's health care and political worlds alike on Friday, threatening to boost premiums for millions, disrupt insurance markets and shove Republicans into a renewed civil war over their efforts to shred "Obamacare."

Defiant Democrats, convinced they have important leverage, promised to press for a bipartisan deal to restore the money by year's end. That drive could split the GOP. On one side: pragmatists seeking to avoid political damage from hurting consumers. On the other: conservatives demanding a major weakening of the Affordable Care Act as the price for returning the money.

"The American people will know exactly where to place the blame," declared Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., all but daring Trump to aggravate what could be a major issue in the 2018 congressional elections.

The money goes to companies for lowering out-of-pocket costs like co-payments and deductibles for low- and middle-income customers. It will cost about $7 billion this year and help more than 6 million people.

Ending the payments would affect insurers because President Barack Obama's law requires them to reduce their poorer customers' costs. Carriers are likely to recoup the lost money by increasing 2018 premiums for people buying their own health insurance policies.

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Trump won't pull out of 'worst' Iran nuclear deal _ for now

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump on Friday angrily accused Iran of violating the landmark 2015 international nuclear accord, blaming the Iranians for a litany of sinister behavior and hitting their main military wing with anti-terror penalties. But Trump, breaking his campaign pledge to rip up the agreement, did not pull the U.S. out or re-impose nuclear sanctions.

He still might, he was quick to add. For now, he's tossing the issue to Congress and the other world powers in the accord, telling lawmakers to toughen the law that governs U.S. participation and calling on the other parties to fix a series of deficiencies. Those include the scheduled expiration of key restrictions under "sunset provisions" that begin to kick in in 2025, as well as the omission of provisions on ballistic missile testing and terrorism.

Without the fixes, Trump warned, he would likely pull the U.S. out of the deal which he has called the worst in U.S. history and slap previously lifted U.S. sanctions back into place. That would probably be a fatal blow for the accord.

"Our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time," Trump declared in a carefully delivered speech read from a teleprompter in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House. He added later, speaking of Congress, "They may come back with something that's very satisfactory to me, and if they don't, within a very short period of time, I'll terminate the deal."

Under U.S. law, Trump faces a Sunday deadline to certify to Congress whether Iran is complying with the accord. That notification must take place every 90 days, a timetable that Trump detests. Since taking office, he has twice reluctantly certified that Iran is fulfilling its commitments.

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Analysis: Trump applies chaos strategy to health care, Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) Unable or unwilling to completely erase his predecessor's signature initiatives, President Donald Trump this week turned to another approach: wreaking havoc.

Trump's back-to-back body blows against President Barack Obama's health care law and nuclear agreement with Iran demonstrated the president's embrace of turmoil as strategy. In both cases, he plunged a pair of policies with broad domestic and international implications into a state of confusion and uncertainty, hoping that the disorder will force Congress to take action.

Trump has long thrived on unpredictability, an attribute he views as a virtue. But to the lawmakers, foreign partners, businesses and consumers now sorting through the implications of his announcements this week, the strategy looks far less appealing.

International allies who spent years negotiating the nuclear accord alongside the U.S. are now left waiting to see if Congress will reinstate nuclear sanctions on Tehran, a move certain to jettison the deal. Trump didn't specifically ask for the sanctions to be put back in place. But, in a speech declaring he would no longer certify the deal, he did ask lawmakers to add new, unspecified conditions for U.S. cooperation in the agreement.

On health care, millions of Americans face the prospect of higher insurance premiums as a result of Trump's decision to immediately halt payments to insurance companies that provide lower-cost plans to low-income people. Trump calls the payments a bailout to insurance companies and he cited as justification a legal dispute over whether the payments were legally authorized. Trump yanked the money without any plan in place for offsetting cost increases for customers. Insurance companies, too, are at the mercy of lawmakers, who must now decide whether to restore the payments.

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Teams report first progress against wine country wildfires

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) A fifth day of desperate firefighting in California wine country brought a glimmer of hope Friday as crews battling the flames reported their first progress toward containing the massive blazes, and hundreds more firefighters poured in to join the effort.

The scale of the disaster also became clearer as authorities said the fires had chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. The death toll rose to 35, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.

"The emergency is not over, and we continue to work at it, but we are seeing some great progress," said the state's emergency operations director, Mark Ghilarducci.

Over the past 24 hours, crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from as far away as Canada and Australia.

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Boy dies, man survives California wildfire 'nuclear blast'

When flames swept over the mountain like a "nuclear blast," Paul Hanssen ran from his burning home, a water-soaked towel around his head and dog by his side, and took shelter in a trailer. He waited nervously for two long hours as winds howled and embers flew by.

When the fire passed, he emerged, parched with thirst. He went to a nearby spring for water and screamed to see if anyone else was around.

No one answered.

Hanssen hurried toward his neighbors' house, where he found Sara Shepherd and her 17-year-old daughter, Kressa, lying on the ground, more than half their bodies burned. He called 911 and took water from a hot water heater left in the charred remnants of the family's home, squeezing drops into their mouths with the towel from his head.

"It was the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking thing I've ever seen in my life," he said. "They were so thirsty, and I knew how they felt because I just went through that thirst."

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In Harvey Weinstein saga, young lives forever altered

NEW YORK (AP) Katherine Kendall was 23 and fresh out of acting school when she met him. A former ballet dancer working hard to launch herself as an actress, she had just landed a good agent and was juggling a schedule packed with auditions.

"He was so warm when I met him and so inviting. He made me feel he was going to take me under his wing," Kendall, now 48, recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. "He literally said, 'Welcome to the Miramax family.'"

Her meeting with Harvey Weinstein, she thought, was going really well.

Weinstein gave her scripts to read and took her to a movie screening at an Upper West Side theater, she said. When they exited, he said he needed to stop at his apartment. There, after spending some time talking, she said, Weinstein came back from the bathroom in a robe and asked for a massage. When she hesitated, Weinstein implored, "Everybody does it," Kendall recalled. She fled after he briefly left the room and returned nude, chasing her around the room, she said.

Like variations of a scene shot over and over again, there have been common hallmarks in the disturbing allegations leveled against Weinstein in the past week by some 30 women: A bathrobe. A request for a massage. A suggestion that it's simply the way things work in the movie business.

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Twitter turns over 'handles' of 201 Russia-linked accounts

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) Twitter has handed over to Senate investigators the profile names, or "handles," of 201 accounts linked to Russian attempts at influencing the 2016 presidential election. The company has stepped up its efforts to cooperate with investigators after it was criticized for not taking congressional probes seriously enough.

The handover occurred this week, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

What remains unclear is whether posts associated with those accounts have been deleted from Twitter's servers. Politico reported on Friday that the company had deleted the tweets in line with its privacy policy. Twitter had no comment on that report.

The company's policy calls for removing tweets that a user deletes on their own. But that policy also states that some tweets can survive the process. For instance, retweets of deleted tweets will remain live if the retweeter added a comment. Twitter also can't remove tweets that have been temporarily stored, or "cached," by services such as Google or reposted on other sites.

Twitter might be able to recover some information about any deleted tweets, according to another person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. That person added that the company is working with investigators to find information that's useful.

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Parents of freed Afghanistan hostage angry at son-in-law

WASHINGTON (AP) The parents of an American woman freed with her family after five years of captivity say they are elated, but also angry at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

"Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable," Caitlan Coleman's father, Jim, told ABC News.

Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were rescued Wednesday, five years after they had been abducted by a Taliban-linked extremist network while in Afghanistan as part of a multi-nation backpacking trip. She was pregnant at the time and had three children in captivity.

Two Pakistani security officials say the family left by plane from Islamabad on Friday. The officials did not say where the family was headed, but Boyle's family has said the couple's plan is to return to Canada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with official protocol.

Caitlan Coleman is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and Boyle is Canadian.

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Las Vegas gunman targeted responding police, jet fuel tanks

LAS VEGAS (AP) The gunman who sprayed more than 1,000 bullets into a Las Vegas country music concert also took shots at jet fuel tanks and targeted police officers responding to the scene, investigators said Friday in portraying a killer who seemed determined to inflict even more carnage than the 58 people he murdered.

Investigators gave more details on the chronology of events surrounding the shooting and pushed back against criticism that they were changing their story. Shifting accounts about when Stephen Paddock fired his first shots in his 32nd floor Mandalay Bay suite have led to questions about whether police could have done more to stop him on Oct. 1.

"In the public space, the word 'incompetent' has been brought forward," Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. "I am absolutely offended with that characterization."

In a chronology provided Monday, Lombardo had said Paddock started spraying 200 rounds from his suite into the hallway of the Mandalay Bay at 9:59 p.m., wounding an unarmed security guard in the leg. He said Friday that the security guard came to a barricaded stairwell door at 9:59 and wasn't shot until around 10:05 p.m.

About that time, the gunman unleashed a barrage of bullets on the festival crowd. Then he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

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'Star Wars' fantasy? Cubans doubt US sonic attacks claims

HAVANA (AP) A bizarre string of attacks on diplomats in Havana has sent Cuban-American relations to their lowest point in decades, with the Trump administration virtually closing its embassy here and expelling Cuban officials from Washington. But few people on this communist-run island believe a word of the U.S. allegations.

Despite increasingly tough talk by the U.S., including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly saying Thursday that Cuba "could stop the attacks on our diplomats," the common reaction in Havana is mocking disbelief.

"It isn't the first or the last excuse that they invent to discredit Cuba and its leaders," lawyer Alexander Tamame, 36, said as he walked through the Vedado neighborhood in this city where the U.S. says at least 22 strange episodes have occurred over the last year. "I don't think anything really happened."

This skepticism stretches from government supporters like Tamame to its detractors; from fans of the United States to those wary of the giant to the north. Talk to anyone, anywhere in the country about the U.S. allegations that Cuba bears responsibility for attacks with a strange sonic weapon that have affected at least 22 embassy officials or spouses some very seriously and you'll likely be met with laughter.

"I don't believe any part of it," said Luis Felipe Gonzalez, a 59-year-old taxi driver, as he waited for customers nearby. "It's absurd propaganda."