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Trump Says He Hosted Otto Warmbier’s Parents Last Weekend 

President Donald Trump said Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump hosted the family and friends of former hostage Otto Warmbier at the White House last weekend. FILE – Otto Warmbier’s profile photo on his Twitter page.The president said 25 people were invited last Saturday to honor Warmbier. His parents say their son was tortured by North Korea after being convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned for months. The 22-year-old suffered severe brain damage and died days after being returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state in 2017. 
 
Trump said previous officials should have moved faster to get him released. He said that when it comes to getting hostages back home, the U.S. must move very quickly, and in the case of Warmbier, it was too late. 
 
North Korea denied mistreating Warmbier. 


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Trump Renews Threat to Dump IS Fighters at Europe’s Border

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday renewed threats to dump captured Islamic State fighters on Europe’s doorstep if countries there continue to refuse to take back all their foreign fighters. 
 
Trump said he was continuing with plans to draw down forces in Syria, saying the U.S. had done the world a big favor by eliminating the terror group’s self-declared caliphate and that it was time for other countries to step up. 
 
“We’re asking them to take back these prisoners of war,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Oval Office at the White House. 
 
“They’ve refused,” he added. “And at some point I’m going to have to say, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re either taking them back or we’re going to let them go at your border.’ ” 
 
This is not the first time Trump has chastised Washington’s European allies over the issue of IS foreign fighters. 
 
In February, after tweeting that the IS caliphate was “ready to fall,” the president took allies to task over their reluctance to repatriate the captured fighters:The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them……..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019According to the latest U.S. estimates, the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are still holding more than 2,000 foreign fighters in makeshift prisons in northeastern Syria, along with thousands other IS fighters from Syria and Iraq. 
 
U.S. and SDF officials have warned that attempted jailbreaks have become common, as many of the facilities, designed to serve as temporary prisons, have been pushed to their limits. 
 
“This is not sustainable,” Chris Maier, director of the Pentagon’s Defeat IS Task Force, told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon. “There are not prisons controlled by forces in northeast Syria that can house 10,000 ISIS fighters.” 
But despite repeated calls by the U.S. and by the political wing of the SDF for countries to repatriate citizens and residents who left to fight for the terror group, the number of prisoners has remained fairly steady. 
 
“We ask for their countries to get them back. Nobody responds,” Sinam Mohammed, the U.S. representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), said last week. 
 Cuban facilitySome U.S. officials and lawmakers have floated the idea that some of the IS fighters could be moved to a facility like the one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, built after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to hold terrorists and fighters aligned with al-Qaida. 
 
But Trump on Friday rejected the idea. 
 
“The United States is not going to have thousands and thousands of people that we have captured stationed at Guantanamo Bay, held captive at Guantanamo Bay, for the next 50 years, and us spending billions and billions of dollars,” he said. 
 
“They can try them, do whatever they want,” the president said of the European countries. “If they don’t take them back, we’ll probably put them at the border and then they’ll have to capture them again.” 


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How Pompeo Took Charge of US Response to Attack on Saudi Oil Fields

As the world waited for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to decide what to do next in response to last weekend’s drone and missile attack on two major Saudi oil fields, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the most bellicose statement yet on the attacks, unambiguously accusing Iran of launching them and declaring the attacks an “act of war.”Almost as soon as the attacks were reported, Pompeo, a former member of Congress and director of the CIA, asserted himself as the person driving the U.S. response. “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is no evidence the attacks on Saturday came from Yemen.”Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept 18, 2019.Although Trump had yet to reach a definitive conclusion about the source of the attacks or what to do about them, many interpreted Pompeo’s “act of war” declaration while conferring with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to mean retaliation was imminent.Already a dominant voice in the foreign policy apparatus of the Trump administration, Pompeo assumed a commanding role over the past 10 days, with the departure of former National Security Adviser John Bolton from the White House. This marked the culmination of nearly two years of chaos within the ranks of national security, intelligence and defense, when practically every one of Trump’s original cabinet members and senior officials fell by the wayside. Pompeo has shown himself to be not only a master tactician but a political survivor, according to some analysts.  Further strengthening Pompeo’s position was the announcement Wednesday that Bolton’s place would be taken by Robert C. O’Brien, a Pompeo protégé who has been serving under him as the State Department’s chief hostage negotiator.Warnings of “all-out war”In an interview with CNN Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeated earlier denials by top officials of his country’s involvement and said that a military strike by the United States or Saudi Arabia on Iran would lead to “all out war.” While insisting that Iranian leaders “don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif added, “But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”On Thursday, as he prepared to leave the Middle East, Pompeo was asked about Zarif’s comment, and painted Iran as the party moving the situation toward conflict.”We’d like a peaceful resolution — indeed, I think we’ve demonstrated that,” he said. “They’ve taken down American UAVs, conducted the largest attack on the globe’s energy in an awfully long time. And we’re still striving to build out a coalition.”FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks after stepping off his plane upon arrival at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 18, 2019.He described his trip as an “act of diplomacy” undertaken “while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all out war to fight to the last American. We’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That’s my mission set. That’s what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve and hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way. There’s, there’s no there’s no evidence of that from his statement.”Pompeo’s first major diplomatic testThe crisis in the Middle East is the first major diplomatic test for Pompeo, who took over the State Department in April of last year, after Trump fired his predecessor, Rex Tillerson.Under Tillerson, the State Department’s influence in the administration was notably diminished. When he took office, Pompeo saw his role as restoring State to the center of the foreign policy establishment.To all appearances, he has been very effective in doing so. Spoken of as the “Trump whisperer,” Pompeo appears to have more influence over the president than any other member of the administration.Experts believe his close relationship with Trump has helped restore the sense among Pompeo’s foreign counterparts that the State Department truly speaks for the Trump administration.”For any secretary of state the international community wants to know they reflect the views of the president,” Kelly Magsamen, Vice President for National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress said in an interview with Voice of America. “I think for the most part Secretary Pompeo does do that very well despite some of his own instincts.”A West Point graduatePompeo, an Army veteran who graduated first in his class at West Point in 1986, is a longtime national security hawk. After five years of service in the Army he earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School and eventually settled in Kansas, where he launched a company that manufactured aircraft parts.FILE – Mike Pompeo, top graduate of the 1986 class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, is congratulated by fellow cadets during graduation ceremonies, May 29, 1986.Four years after selling his interest in the firm, he became deeply involved with politically active groups funded by the conservative Koch Brothers. Amid the Tea Party wave of 2010, he launched his first run for Congress, winning the right to represent the state’s fourth district, and would go on to win re-election three times.In Congress, he made a name for himself as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with controversial stands on issues including restoring the government’s ability to conduct surveillance of American citizens and resuming the use of the torture technique known as waterboarding in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.Pompeo was also an active member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and publicly broke from his colleagues who determined that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of the attack on a US diplomatic compound in Libya in 2012.It was reportedly his stance on Benghazi that drew the attention of President Trump, who tapped Pompeo to serve as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in January of 2017. Pompeo won over many at the agency with his willingness to break with President Trump on some key issues, including Russia’s malign interference with the U.S. election in 2016.A tempting open Senate seatThe biggest question surrounding Pompeo’s role in the administration is how long he intends to hold on to it.Never far from the surface in discussions about Pompeo is the fact that there will be an open Senate seat in his home state of Kansas next year, due to the planned retirement of Sen. Pat Roberts. The former Kansas Secretary of State Ken Kobach is currently the best-known Republican in the race to succeed Roberts, but his struggles in the polls against Democratic former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom have many in the party hoping that Pompeo will make a run for a seat that has been in Republican hands for more than 100 years. 


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Nurses Staging 1-Day Strike at 12 Hospitals in 3 States

Registered nurses staged a one-day strike Friday against Tenet Health hospitals in Florida, California and Arizona, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
 
About 6,500 National Nurses United members walked out at 12 Tenet facilities after working without a contract for two years in Arizona and under expired contracts for months in California and Florida, the union said. They plan to resume working Saturday.
 
Members are also passing out leaflets in Texas, where contracts at two Tenet hospitals in El Paso expire later this year.
 
Yajaira Roman, a union leader and neurological intensive care nurse at Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida, said that although the Tenet nurses want higher wages, they also want a lower patient-to-nurse ratio as a way to avoid burnout and improve care. For example, the union says Tenet assigns eight patients per nurse in Palmetto’s surgical unit, double the level the union says research recommends.
 
“We are nurses — we are really proud of what we do and we’re happy that we’re serving the community, but we want to do it in a way where when patients leave the hospital they are extremely satisfied,” said Roman, a nurse for 18 years.
 
Tenet, which has 65 hospitals and 115,000 employees nationwide, issued a statement saying it has negotiated in “good faith” and it is disappointed the union chose to strike.
 
“While we respect the nurses’ right to strike, patients and their loved ones can be assured that our patients will continue to be cared for by qualified replacement registered nurses and other caregivers,” the Dallas-based company’s statement said.U.S. numbers
 
According to the U.S. Labor Department, almost 3 million registered nurses are employed nationally, with an average annual salary of $75,510. Florida’s average RN salary is $66,210, Arizona’s is $77,000 and California’s is $106,950, tops in the nation. RNs typically have either an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing or graduated from a three-year program at a teaching hospital. They then must pass a state licensing exam.
 
The Tenet walkout is one of several strikes and organizing efforts nationwide as unions work to rebuild from a steep membership decline that began 50 years ago. Many are focusing on white-collar, female-dominated and service-sector industries such as health care, teaching, the media and hospitality instead of just blue-collar, male-dominated industries like manufacturing, where the United Auto Workers is striking against General Motors.
 
A recent Gallup poll showed Americans support unions by a 2-to-1 margin, up from a near even split 10 years ago and nearly the highest level since the 1960s.


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Trump Administration Revokes California’s Strict Emission Standards Despite Its Pollution

Remnants of tropical storm Imelda have caused serious flooding in eastern Texas, including parts of Houston, forcing evacuations, flight cancellations, school closures and causing some outages. Reports of other environmental disasters come from various parts of the world, as the United Nations General Assembly prepares to discuss climate change, which is linked to human activity such as pollution and gas-fueled transportation. Zlatica Hoke reports the Trump administration so far has shunned efforts to curb pollution, and there are no signs this will change.
 


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US Military to Present Several Options to Trump on Iran

The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to U.S. officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the U.S. should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the U.S. and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
 
Iran has denied involvement and warned the U.S. that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”The U.S. response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the U.S. to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the U.S. responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.”It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the U.S. and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
 
A forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the U.S. has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.U.S. officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.Instead, Trump opted to have U.S. military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to U.S. officials.The Pentagon said the U.S. military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to provide more protection for the northern part of the country.Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that U.S. Central Command is talking with the Saudis about ways to mitigate future attacks. He would not speculate on what types of support could be provided.Other U.S. officials have said adding Patriot missile batteries and enhanced radar systems could be options, but no decisions have been made.


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‘Middle of the Herd’ no More: Amazon Tackles Climate Change

Online shopping giant Amazon revealed a carbon footprint Thursday that rivals that of a small country and vowed to reduce the damage to the planet by cutting its use of fossil fuels.The company, which ships more than 10 billion items a year on fuel-guzzling planes and trucks, said it has ordered 100,000 electric vans that will start delivering packages to shoppers’ doorsteps in 2021. It also plans to have 100% of its energy use come from solar panels and other renewable energy by 2030. That’s up from 40% today.“We’ve been in the middle of the herd on this issue and we want to move to the forefront,” said Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who announced the initiatives at an event in Washington.Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks during his news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Bezos announced the Climate Pledge, setting a goal to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early.Amazon said it emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, a number that comes close to pollution rates of some small nations.“Its greenhouse gas emissions are about 85% of the emissions of Switzerland or Denmark,” said Gregg Marland, a professor at the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics at Appalachian State University.Amazon’s employees have pressed the company to do more to combat climate change. Earlier this year, more than 8,000 Amazon staffers signed an open letter to Bezos, demanding that Amazon cut its carbon emissions, end its use of fossil fuels and stop working with oil companies who use Amazon’s technology to find drillable oil faster. More than 1,500 employees are planning a walkout Friday to support the Global Climate Strike, a worldwide climate change protest.Amazon plans to be carbon neutral by 2040 and wants other companies to join it. Bezos unveiled a climate pledge and said he would talk with CEOs of other large companies to get them to sign it.“We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way,” Bezos said.FILE – Emily Cunningham, left, who works at Amazon.com, speaks as Kathryn Dellinger, right, who also works for Amazon, looks on, May 22, 2019, in Seattle. Both women are part of the group “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.”Amazon workers get ‘huge win’A climate change advocacy group founded by Amazon workers said the company’s announcement amounted to a “huge win” and proved that employee pressure works. In a statement, Amazon Employees For Climate Justice said that it would keep pushing the issue as long as Amazon continues working with oil and gas companies and donating to politicians who deny climate change.Bezos defended Amazon’s work with the oil and gas industry, arguing that “we need to help them instead of vilify them,” and said Amazon would take a “hard look” at campaign contributions to climate deniers. However, he stopped short of saying such donations would stop.Employees from other big tech giants, including Google and Microsoft, also planned to walk out Friday. Their gripes mirror those of Amazon’s employees, including that their companies provide technology to the oil industry. Ahead of the strikes, Google made its own announcement Thursday, saying it would buy enough renewable energy to spur the construction of millions of solar panels and hundreds of wind turbines across the world.Comprehensive carbon footprintTo measure its carbon footprint, Amazon looked at emissions from all of its businesses, including the planes it operates and the energy it uses to make Echos, Kindles and its other devices. Amazon even included customers’ trips to Whole Foods, the grocery chain it owns.“It’s very comprehensive,” said Beril Toktay, professor of operations and supply chain management at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. She said she would like to see Amazon include the carbon footprint of the products it sells on its website, which could help drive people to shop for items that are less damaging to the environment.Robin Bell, a research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said it was exciting to see Amazon taking meaningful steps to reduce its carbon footprint.“They’re blazing a trail for other companies to follow suit,” Bell said.


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US Military Vows to Defend US Elections

The U.S. military is joining federal, state and local officials on the frontlines of the battle to protect the country’s elections from foreign interference.Defense Secretary Mark Esper made the announcement Thursday, saying that, from now on, election security will be one of the military’s enduring missions, and that his department will seek to take the fight to the country’s enemies.“The lines between war and peace have now blurred,” Esper said, citing an exponential expansion of dangers in cyberspace. “Our paradigm for war has changed.”“Our adversaries see cyberwarfare as a way to take on the United States and impose costs without confronting our traditional strengths,” he said.FILE – U.S. Department of Homeland Security election security workers monitor screens in Arlington, Va., Nov. 6, 2018.Election securityThe decision to make election security a core part of the military’s mission comes with campaigning for the 2020 U.S. presidential election well underway, with more than a dozen candidates looking to unseat President Donald Trump.It also represents a significant expansion of the military’s role in protecting the integrity of U.S. elections, which until now had been more modest.Despite concerns about Russian and Chinese efforts to meddle in last November’s midterm elections, the Defense Department was in the background, standing up a handful of cyber protection teams that could have been called upon to assist the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), if needed.“There would not be any independent DoD teams. We would operate in concert with DHS for incident response for election security,” Ed Wilson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, said at the time, emphasizing Homeland Security officials would be in the lead.But Esper said the growing threat landscape necessitated a larger military role.“We need to do more than just play goal line defense,” he said. “The Department of Defense has an important role in defending the American people from this misinformation, particularly as it pertains to preserving the integrity of our democratic elections.”For months now, current and former U.S. intelligence and security officials have warned that Russia is actively working to interfere in the 2020 elections, whether with disinformation campaigns or by targeting U.S. election infrastructure, such as voter databases.FILE – Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee to testify on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, July 24, 2019, in Washington.“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here,” former special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, told lawmakers this past July. “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”Intelligence officials’ warningsMueller also echoed warnings from top intelligence officials that in 2020, Russia would not be alone.“Many more countries are developing capabilities to replicate what the Russians have done,” he added.Esper agreed.“Our adversaries will continue to target our democratic processes,” he warned Thursday. “This is already happening in preparation for the 2020 elections.”In addition to Russia, officials have said evidence shows Iran and China tried to meddle in the 2018 elections. And they expect the list to grow.“2018 was maybe a playoff game; 2020 is the Super Bowl with election security,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Thursday.“State and local election officials are standing on the frontlines of a renewed conflict, defending our nation’s election systems against state and criminal actors,” he said. “I’m committed to ensuring that they do not stand alone.”For state and local election officials, more help may soon be on the way.FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suffered a broken shoulder at his home during the August recess. Congress returned, Sept. 9, 2019, with pressure mounting on McConnell to address gun violence, election security and other issues.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday agreed to support legislation that would provide states with an additional $250 million for election security.Congressional approval neededThe measure still needs approval from the full Senate and from the House of Representatives, as well as Trump’s signature, for the funds to be doled out. But while lawmakers and officials see McConnell’s support as a positive sign, other security officials worry it, by itself, will not be enough.“I think (it’s) a great step forward. But what’s next?” Chris Krebs, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said to reporters.“Because if it’s these inconsistent, mass injections of cash every 10 years or eight years, that creates some disruption,” he said. “The thing they (state officials) want more than anything with funding, whether it comes from their state or whether it comes through the federal government, is consistency.”At least one key lawmaker believes the U.S. is at least on the right track.“I’m quite confident in 2020, in terms of the election being legitimate and secure,” said Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee.“Russia has always been trying to interfere. They always have, always will. Iran, China. We just have to be more discerning as consumers,” he said.


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