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Strange ‘sea pickles’ keep washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest — and scientists are baffled

There are strange sea creatures known as “sea pickles” invading the Pacific Northwest.

These gelatinous and somewhat translucent organisms, called pyrosomes, have been seen congregating, sometimes by the thousands, close to shore from Northern California up to southeast Alaska — clogging fishing nets and washing up on beaches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Experts say that this year, the critters are appearing in very high numbers outside the normal range of the species.

Most recently, NBC Bay Area reported that the sea dwellers have been causing a stir in Monterey Bay, frustrating fishermen trying to catch salmon and shrimp.

So what are pyrosomes, where did they come from, and why are they swarming shores?

NOAA Fisheries described them this way:

Pyrosomes are pelagic Tunicates, which are part of Chordata, a phylum that includes humans. It is tough and slimy to the touch with small, pronounced bumps. Inside the wall of this gelatinous tube, which can get up to 60 cm, individual zooids are tightly packed together. These zooids have an incurrent and excurrent siphon and use cilia to pump water for feeding, respiration and movement. Using a mucus net, they filter water for small planktonic microorganisms.

Pyrosomes are known to aggregate in large clusters at the surface and the zooids bioluminesce to create beautiful light displays.

Experts say pyrosomes are found all over the world, typically in warmer tropical waters far offshore.

Ric Brodeur, a research biologist at the NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Ore., said that beachcombers in Oregon have been walking the beaches there for decades, but he has started getting reports of pyrosomes washing up on the beaches only in the past few months. He has also been going to sea on research cruises since the 1980s and saw his first pyrosome only in 2014. He believes the high abundance is related to unusually warm ocean conditions along the coast that resembles pyrosomes’ normal habitat.

Brodeur said it is too soon to say whether pyrosomes will become permanent residents of the Pacific Northwest, as the ocean could revert to colder conditions.

“We’ll have to wait to see how it goes, but certainly, it’s not a good sign for the ecosystem to have these critters out there instead of the normal fish and crustacean prey most fish, birds and mammals off our coast are accustomed to,” he said.

During research cruises in February and May, pyrosomes — some more than two feet long — were seen in the highest number 40 to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast.

“A five-minute midwater tow of a research net off the Columbia River in late May brought up approximately 60,000 pyrosomes,” NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center said in a blog post. “Scientists spent hours sorting through the massive catch to find the rare fish they were targeting.”

Researchers from NOAA Fisheries, along with researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, have been studying these sea creatures to learn more about them.

Read more:

Dutch fishermen caught a rare two-headed sea creature. What happened next would horrify scientists.

This impossibly cute sea creature looks like a googly-eyed cartoon octopus

This deep sea creature looks just like the Flying Spaghetti Monster

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This cutting-edge bandage could make flu shots a thing of the past

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-flu-shot-patch-20170628-htmlstory.html

 

Here’s an idea whose time has come: A flu shot that doesn’t require an actual shot.

For the first time, researchers have tested a flu vaccine patch in a human clinical trial and found that it delivered as much protection as a traditional jab with a needle.

It’s not just needle-phobes who stand to benefit from this development, reportedTuesday in the journal Lancet. Doctors and public health experts have high hopes that vaccine patches will boost the number of people who get immunized against the flu.

Seasonal influenza is responsible for up to half a million deaths around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, the annual death toll since 2010 has ranged between 12,000 and 56,000. And yet the proportion of American adults who get a flu shot tends to hover around 40%.

The fact that it usually involves poking a piece of metal into the muscle of your upper arm may have something to do with that low vaccination rate. (Some people also blame the time and expense involved in getting a flu shot.)

But a team led by Georgia Tech engineer Mark Prausnitz has come up with an alternative method that uses “microneedles.” These tiny needles are so small that 100 of them, arrayed on a patch, can fit under your thumb. Yet they’re big enough to hold vaccine for three strains of the flu.

The microneedle patch was tested in a clinical trial conducted by Dr. Nadine Rouphael and colleagues at Emory University’s Hope Clinic in Decatur, Ga. The trial involved 100 volunteers, who were randomly sorted into four groups.

Two of the groups were vaccinated with the patch, which resembles a Band-Aid and must be applied to the skin near the wrist for 20 minutes. The procedure was so straightforward that one group of volunteers was able to administer the vaccine themselves. (In the other group, healthcare professionals did the job.) Inspection of the used vaccine patches revealed that the microneedles dissolved during the 20 minutes they were on the skin.

A third group received a traditional flu shot using a regular needle, and a fourth group got a patch that looked like the real thing but contained a placebo.

The researchers checked in on the volunteers 28 days after their immunizations and found that flu antibody levels were “significantly higher” in the three groups that got the vaccine than in the group that got the placebo.

What’s more, the two groups that got the vaccine via a patch had about the same antibody levels as the group that got the traditional shot. In addition, the volunteers who put the patches on themselves got the same protection as the volunteers whose patches were administered by health professionals.

After six months, at least 75% of volunteers in all three vaccine groups were still being protected, according to the study.

The traditional shot contained at least 15 micrograms of antigens (the part of the flu virus that triggers an immune response) to each of the three strains of flu. The patches delivered a slightly smaller dose of antigens, regardless of whether the patch was deployed by a health professional or a volunteer.

The microneedle array. When pressed into the skin, the tiny needles dissolve, carrying flu vaccine into the skin.
The microneedle array. When pressed into the skin, the tiny needles dissolve, carrying flu vaccine into the skin. (Lancet)

None of the study volunteers had serious side effects. The groups that got patches had mild skin reactions that were not seen in the regular needle group, while the volunteers in the regular needle group were more likely to experience pain.

Overall, 70% of the volunteers who got vaccine patches said they’d rather use them again than get a traditional flu shot or an intranasal vaccine. The study authors declared it a success on all fronts.

“Influenza vaccination with microneedle patches is well tolerated, well accepted, and results in robust immunological responses, whether administered by health-care workers or by the participants themselves,” they wrote.

Still, they added that the patches would have to perform well in larger studies before they could be put into wide use. Ideally, future versions of the patches would produce fewer skin reactions while delivering the same protection, they wrote.

Their enthusiasm was echoed in commentary that accompanied the study.

“These early findings suggest the emergence of a promising new option for seasonal vaccination,” wrote Katja Hoschler and Maria Zambon of Public Health England.

The biggest beneficiaries could be people in low- and middle-income countries, where flu vaccines are hard to come by. Reducing pain is nice, but other benefits — the patch costs less, is easier to transport, doesn’t require refrigeration, can be self-administered and doesn’t generate sharps waste — are even better.

“Microneedle patches have the potential to become ideal candidates for vaccination programs,” they wrote.

Baby to be taken off life support after parents lose court appeal

Baby to be taken off life support after parents lose court appeal

 

LONDON – The legal fight is over: A hospital in the UK will take an infant off life support after his parents failed to convince a court that he could be saved with an experimental treatment.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that keeping 10-month-old Charlie Gard alive would do nothing but prolong his pain, reports the Guardian. He suffers from a rare disease known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, and parents Chris Gard and Connie Yates wanted to take him to the US for experimental treatment.

His UK doctors, however, say it’s hopeless, and parents’ rights are not absolute in the UK in such cases, explains CNN. A number of courts ruled against them, with their last hope being the ECHR.

But the seven justices declined to overrule the British courts. “The decision is final,” said the ruling. Charlie is currently on life support at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, and a spokesperson said the hospital would not “rush” to take him off it.

“Our priority is to provide every possible support to Charlie’s parents as we prepare for the next steps.” The details on where Charlie’s parents had wanted to take him in the US have been kept under wraps during the legal wrangling, and supporters had raised more than $1.6 million to cover expenses.

Medical experts in Britain said the treatment had no chance of saving the infant, but his parents made the case on their website that it was worth a try.

“He literally has nothing to lose but potentially a healthier, happier life to gain,” they wrote. (These parents gave up everything to keep their sick baby alive.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Baby to Come Off Life Support After Parents Lose Court Fight

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111 people died under California’s new right-to-die law

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/28/health/california-end-of-life-2016-bn/index.html

 

(CNN) One hundred eleven people died last year under California’s new right-to-die law, according to a report released Tuesday by the state’s Department of Public Health.

The End of Life Option Act went into effect on June 9, 2016. It allows for California residents, age 18 and older, to request life-ending medication from their doctor if they are suffering from a terminal illness and want to set their own timetable for their death.
Between June 9 and December 31, 2016, 258 people initiated the process, according to the report. One hundred ninety-one people were prescribed the lethal medication, of which 111 patients “were reported by their physician to have died following ingestion of aid-in-dying drugs prescribed under EOLA.” Twenty-one people died as a result of their underlying terminal illness, and the outcome of the other 59 people who were prescribed drugs “is currently undetermined, as there has been no outcome reported for these individuals within the time period covered by this report.”
The majority of the 111 people who utilized the law were cancer patients, according to the report. The median age at time of death was 73. Most patients were white (89.5%), enrolled in hospice/palliative care (83.8%), and were covered by some type of health insurance (96.4%). Sixty women and 51 men died as a result of ingesting aid-in-dying drugs.
“The state’s data show that even during the early months of the law’s implementation, the law was working well and terminally ill Californians were able to take comfort in knowing that they had this option to peacefully end intolerable suffering,” Compassion & Choices California State Director Matt Whitaker said in a statement. “We continue to work to ensure that every terminally ill Californian has equal access to all end-of-life care options, including hospice, pain control, palliative care and medical aid in dying.” The nonprofit organization helped to get the law passed in California, and advocates for similar legislation nationwide.

End of Life Option Act

In California, a mentally competent adult is eligible to partake in the End of Life Option Act if he or she is determined to have a terminal illness — meaning they have six months or less to live. The patient must make two verbal requests of their doctor, at least 15 days apart, as well as one written request. The patient must affirm his or her request 48 hours before ingesting the medication, which they must be able to self-administer, without the help of a physician, family member or friend.
Physician-assisted aid-in-dying is different from euthanasia (commonly referred to as physician-assisted suicide), which is illegal in all 50 states. Aid-in-dying advocates such as former California state Sen. Lois Wolk and state Sen. Bill Monning — who co-authored the End of Life Option Act — dislike the term “suicide,” because it implies an impulsive and irrational act.
“Is this suicide?” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta pointedly asked the pair in an interview last year.
“No, not at all,” said Wolk.
“The person is dying. The people we’ve met with — they want to live,” said Monning. “They’re not choosing death. That decision has been made unfortunately because of an uncontrolled disease, a terminal cancer. … What this does is allows them to gain autonomy, self-determination in what will be the path of that certain death.”
Both Wolk and Monning said it was important that any attempt to influence a person to hasten his or her own death under their bill would be cause for felony prosecution.
“The health plans cannot influence a patient in their choices,” said Monning. “They’re not mandated to cover the costs. Some may, some may not … but no plan can say, ‘You can’t pursue (an expensive or long-term) treatment option; we want you to use this end of life option.’ That’s cause for a felony.”
Under California’s law, the cause of death that is listed on an official death certificate is the underlying terminal illness, such as cancer — not “suicide” or use of the End of Life Option Act. That has important implications not only for patient confidentiality, but also for sensitive family matters such as a will or life insurance.

The legacy of Brittany Maynard

In 2014, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard brought the right-to-die movement back into the country’s consciousness. On New Year’s Day, she found out that she had brain cancer. After multiple procedures to remove part of the tumor, Maynard learned that it had come back and was more aggressive. Doctors said she had fewer than six months to live.
“I do not want to die. But I am dying,” she wrote in an emotional essay for CNN in October 2014. “And I want to die on my own terms.”
Because California had not yet legalized medical aid in dying, Maynard and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Oregon to utilize that state’s Death With Dignity law.
Oregon was the first state to enact such a law, in 1997. In the 18 years after, 1,545 prescriptions have been written for a lethal dose of medication, of which 991 patients used that prescription to hasten their death, according to a study released in April. Most of those patients, like Maynard, had cancer.
Maynard made a series of videos with Compassion & Choices, the medical aid-in-dying advocacy group.
“I can’t even tell you the amount of relief it provides me to know that I don’t have to die the way that it’s been described to me that my brain tumor would take me on its own,” Maynard said in the first video.
Maynard and Diaz had been married just over a year when she was diagnosed with cancer. Uprooting their lives in California to move to Oregon was challenging for their entire family.
“That was one of the worst things, having to leave our home at that time,” Diaz told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview last year. “We move to Oregon; Brittany applies for this (lethal) medication; she puts it in the cupboard, and that’s it.
“We continue doing everything we can to extend her life,” Diaz said. “The fact that we had that medication, it didn’t change anything with regards to her battling cancer or her fighting. When you have cancer, you fight. That’s what you do.”
On the morning of November 1, 2014, Maynard had a small seizure.
“It passed,” Diaz said, “so we slept a little bit later that day. … We had breakfast. Brittany wanted to go for a walk, so we did. We took the dogs — because, again — being outdoors, that’s what fed Brittany’s soul.
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“When we got back to the house … she just told me, she says, ‘Dan, it’s time. It’s my time,’ ” he recalled. “The suffering that she had endured leading up to that day, the seizure that morning, was a reminder of what she was risking — that if a seizure or a stroke occurs as her symptoms get worse, if she loses the ability to self-administer, if she suffers a stroke and she loses the ability to stand, walk or swallow, all of a sudden she’s now trapped in her own body, and she’s trapped dying the very way she was trying to avoid.
“It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Diaz remembered. “She wrote a final passage in her Facebook, kind of a letter to all her friends and loved ones, and within five minutes of taking that medication, Brittany fell asleep, just like I’ve seen her do a thousand times before. In 30 minutes, the medication slows brain function, including the parts that control breathing, so her respirations drop to a point where she passed away. That was the gentle passing that Brittany had, and that’s not the gentle passing that she would have had if the brain tumor would have continued to run its course.”

Staples to Sell for $6.9 Billion, and Its New Owner Has an Uphill Battle

As online shopping claims ever more casualties, Staples, a mainstay of office supplies, has agreed to sell itself to a private equity firm.

The deal is the latest instance of a once-prominent name in retailing being laid low by the powerful forces reshaping how people shop (in other words: Amazon).

Sycamore Partners — a private equity firm that specializes in retailers and already owns the likes of Talbots, the Limited and Hot Topic — said Wednesday that it would acquire Staples for $6.9 billion, citing its “iconic brand.”

Yet Sycamore is acquiring a company that is squarely in decline. Sales and gross profits at Staples have fallen for each of the last four full years. At the same time, the company has been shrinking the number of stores it operates.

Staples had sought to remain competitive in the online world by merging with another chain, Office Depot. But that deal was blocked by a federal judge, and the companies abandoned their effort last year.

In its most recent annual report, Staples was frank about the challenges it faced. After noting that it competes with wholesalers and local stationery stores, it reached the heart of the matter.

“We also compete with online retailers such as Amazon.com, mass merchants such as Walmart and Target, warehouse clubs such as Costco, computer and electronics retail stores such as Best Buy,” the company said.

Nor did it offer up an especially rosy outlook.

“We are focused on maximizing profitability and reducing risk in our underperforming North American retail and international businesses,” the company said in its annual report, noting that it planned to close about 70 stores in North America this year.

Staples’s board and management decided to sell the company after shareholders had essentially lost faith in the business. Shares of the company were trading near $7 earlier this year, having fallen sharply from about $18 a share just two and a half years ago.

Investors can take some measure of solace from this deal. Sycamore’s offer of $10.25 a share represents a 20 percent premium over the company’s stock price in early April, before initial reports of a deal to sell the company lifted shares.

“Staples’ board believes that this process has led to a transaction which is in the best interests of our stockholders, as well as Staples and its employees,” Robert Sulentic, the company’s chairman, said in a statement.

Staples and Sycamore declined to make executives available for interviews on Wednesday.

For a business on the wane, Staples still sells huge volumes of paper, printer cartridges and electronics. It reported $18.2 billion in revenue last year, down from $21.1 billion five years ago.

And for a company that is closely associated with big-box stores, Staples sells a minority of its goods at bricks-and-mortar locations. Some $10.6 billion of its sales are delivered, compared with about $6.6 billion sold in stores. That suggests that even as stores close and consumers shop online, Staples has a large and potentially profitable opportunity.

For those reasons, the company was an ideal target for a leveraged buyout.

What’s more, Staples has very little debt, just about $1 billion in total. That healthy balance sheet will mean Sycamore — which will borrow much of the money it needs to fund its buyout — will not have to overload the company with a crushing debt burden.

A consortium of banks including UBS, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Canada, Jefferies, Wells Fargo Bank and Fifth Third Bank are providing financing. The deal, which is subject to shareholder approval, is expected to close by the end of the year.

Ultimately, however, Sycamore will have to figure out what to do with Staples.

“Declining traffic, escalating leases and sluggish consumer spending have made it very difficult to support the debt load that often comes with private equity acquisitions,” Liz Dunn, chief executive of Pro4ma, a retail analytics software company, said in an email. “Staples’ position as an industry leader provides some cover from retail’s meltdown, but there remains too many stores in almost every sector of retail, and office products are hardly immune from disruptive trends.”

If Sycamore follows a traditional private equity playbook, it is expected to have an easy time squeezing out costs, streamlining operations and issuing special dividends that enrich the firm and its limited partners.

And there are other potential deals that could help strengthen Staples.

One option could be to try to revive a merger with Office Depot. That deal was among a number of prominent mergers that were met with opposition in the last years of the Obama administration.

Executives and bankers are betting that the Trump administration will take a more business-friendly approach to antitrust review. But with a dearth of big mergers and acquisitions so far in President Trump’s tenure, that belief has not been tested. This deal is the largest buyout of the year in the United States.

Whatever it does with Staples, Sycamore may have a hard time returning the company to the public markets. Investors who have lost faith in Staples today would need a drastic change in perspective to buy shares in the same company a few years from now. Instead, Sycamore may try to sell Staples to a different private equity firm, or a strategic buyer like Walmart.

For Staples’s chief executive, Shira Goodman, the sale to Sycamore caps a short tenure in charge. She was installed as interim chief executive last year after her longtime boss, Ron Sargent, stepped down after failing to complete the Office Depot deal, and her position was later made permanent.

Barclays and Morgan Stanley advised Staples, and WilmerHale provided legal advice. Sycamore was advised by Bank of America and Deutsche Bank, and received legal advice from Kirkland & Ellis.

Fact Check: No Evidence Undocumented Immigrants Commit More Crimes

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/fact-check-no-evidence-undocumented-immigrants-commit-more-crimes-n777856

 

The Trump administration on Wednesday was all about crime committed by undocumented immigrants.

President Donald Trump met at the White House with the victims of crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security championed increased arrests, and the Department of Justice called for the passage of a law that would up the penalties for undocumented immigrants who attempt to reenter the country.

The day’s events meshed well with Trump’s campaign rhetoric that illegal immigration was a public safety issue, with criminals “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” as he put it in one campaign speech.

There’s one catch: There’s no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crime.

Trump has often drawn a connection between illegal immigration and violent crime. A handout provided by the White House on Wednesday quoted candidate Trump: “Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”

Politifact noted last year that there’s no national database of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants or study that tracked the crimes they have committed. “The challenge in finding concrete numbers is due to a shortfall of data,” Politifact said.

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. tripled between the 1990s and 2013, while violent crime declined 48% and property crime fell 41% over that period.

What’s more, a slew of studies have found that immigrants as a whole — both legal and undocumented — commit less crime than native-born Americans.

One study in Criminology found that “violent crime rates tended to decrease as metropolitan areas experienced gains in their concentration of immigrants.” A 2007 report by a pro-immigrant nonprofit, American Immigration Council, concluded that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated.”

On the campaign trail, Trump, as quoted in the White House fact sheet, also vowed to “end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths.”

Yet sanctuary cities appear to be safer than non-sanctuary cities, according to an University of California analysis of federal data published by a liberal think tank, and another analysis by political scientists found those cities do not see a surge in crime.

“Did I say aliens commit more crimes than U.S. citizens? I didn’t say that,” Thomas Homan, acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on Wednesday. “The purpose is to dispel notion if you enter illegally, you should be comfortable.”

In a handouts given to reporters Wednesday, the White House offered a slew of statistics about enforcement. Many were accurate; a handful were false or misleading.

One fact sheet boasted that ICE had removed 2,798 “criminal gang members” in fiscal year 2017 — a period that includes nearly four months of President Barack Obama’s term — while a second hand out touted 1,378 arrests from an anti-gang operation during this calendar year (20 days of which where under Obama’s leadership.)

What’s more, experts told NBC News that the kind of immigration enforcement the Trump administration championed Wednesday is likely to drive overall crime numbers up, as communities shut out authorities, declining to report crime or cooperate with police for fear of being deported.

A bullet hole, a mystery and an FBI agent’s indictment — the messy aftermath of an Oregon standoff

The shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum on a snowy Oregon highway on Jan. 26, 2016, was one of those instant American dramas in which every photo, every eyewitness account and every millisecond of video become forensic evidence in a public debate over whether someone deserved to die at the hands of police.

In classic fashion, two sides examined the same evidence and saw two different things. To the government, Finicum, 55, was reaching for a loaded gun in his jacket after speeding away from a traffic stop, and the shooting by Oregon State Police troopers was justified.

To thousands of antigovernment activists across the country, the Arizona rancher was a folk hero who became a martyr when, in their view, he was ambushed — shot in the back without a gun in his hand — by overaggressive law enforcement officials who were trying to crush the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

But when it came to one mysterious piece of evidence in the case, the two sides were bothered by the same question: Where did the bullet hole in the roof of Finicum’s truck come from?

The government offered an answer Wednesday when a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team was indicted on suspicion of shooting twice at Finicum during the chaotic encounter and then lying about it to state and federal investigators.

The agent, W. Joseph Astarita, stone-faced and wearing a dark gray pinstriped suit, entered a plea of not guilty to five counts of lying and obstruction in a two-minute arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart in federal court in Portland.

Astarita and the Hostage Rescue Team — the FBI’s crack counter-terrorism unit, which responds to crises all over the nation — had been summoned to rural Oregon to help resolve the government’s high-stakes standoff with a band of heavily armed occupiers who took over Malheur on Jan. 2, 2016.

The occupation near Burns, Ore., was widely viewed as the ideological sequel to the Bureau of Land Management’s 2014 armed showdown with ranchers and militia in Bunkerville, Nev., who were protesting the government’s attempts to get a local rancher, Cliven Bundy, to follow federal wildlands laws.

Finicum, who had a ranch in Arizona, and two of Bundy’s sons came to Oregon for similar reasons — protesting on behalf of local ranchers — and the occupiers holed up at the reserve, holding court with reporters and sometimes advancing dubious legal theories about the illegitimacy of the federal government. In interviews, Finicum hinted he might be willing to die for the cause.

Observers — and participants — feared both encounters might lead to the kind of tense law enforcement siege that had met bloody conclusions on Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993. The Nevada encounter ended after federal agents withdrew from the scene.

But in Oregon, agents decided to act.

Oregon State Police and the Hostage Rescue Team decided to arrest Finicum and some of the occupation’s other leaders on a rural stretch of highway away from the wildlife refuge as he led a two-truck convoy filled with passengers.

Finicum initially stopped when pulled over by law enforcement, but then sped away, crashed his truck into a snowbank and nearly hit a Hostage Rescue Team member as he apparently tried to avoid a police roadblock. One Oregon state trooper fired three shots at Finicum’s speeding vehicle but didn’t hit anyone.

Then, a moment after Finicum staggered out of the truck with his arms in the air, a video taken by one of the passengers inside the truck shows an apparent shot hitting the roof of the vehicle and striking a window.

Afterward, Finicum moved toward officers and appeared to reach toward his jacket, under which was a loaded gun, and was fatally shot by state troopers.

All of the troopers’ shots were deemed justifiable “and, in fact, necessary,” Malheur County Dist. Atty. Dan Norris said last year after reviewing the shooting.

But investigators were concerned that they could not account for the shots apparently fired by an FBI agent that left the bullet hole in the roof of Finicum’s truck.

None of the FBI agents took responsibility for taking the shots. Suspicions were further aroused when investigators later reportedly couldn’t find two shell casings that had initially been spotted at the scene.

Law enforcement video also reportedly showed some of the FBI agents searching the area with flashlights and huddling together, with one agent picking something up off the ground, according to a report in the Oregonian newspaper last year.

That is one reason Finicum’s widow said she was grateful for Wednesday’s indictment, but not satisfied.

“I believe there’s more that needs to be done; there were other officers involved in the coverup,” said Jeanette Finicum, 57, who has taken over her husband’s ranch. Finicum left behind 12 children and 25 grandchildren.

And although the government’s prosecution of one of its own agents helps answer a question that the two sides had shared about the shooting, the prosecution is not likely to mollify Finicum’s supporters.

“These are not hostage rescuers. The HRT are assassins,” Gavin Seim, an activist who supported the Malheur occupation, said in a Facebook video on Wednesday, in which he cited the Hostage Rescue Team’s presence at the 1990s standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. “A man was murdered, assassinated on the side of the road. I’m sorry, guys. This is not so awesome. This is not a victory when the terrorists of the planet, of our country, of our people commit crimes.”

Seim added that Finicum “exemplifies making a principled stand, standing up and giving his life for his friends and for liberty.” Like many of his fellow activists, Seim had a much darker view of law enforcement. “Every police report in America is false. That’s the norm,” Seim said. Of Astarita, he added, “This guy just got noticed.”

At Wednesday’s court hearing, Stewart ordered Astarita remain free pending trial. The agent declined to comment while leaving court. He was represented by a public defender, who said Astarita would be retaining private counsel.

The prosecution against Astarita comes after more than a year of investigation by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and as the government is still trying to prosecute antigovernment protesters who have initiated standoffs with federal agents in Oregon and Nevada over the federal government’s wildlands policies.

Billy J. Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, said the charges against Astarita have no bearing on the investigation of the Finicum shooting, which he described as “necessary and justified.”

When asked the question on most minds about Astarita — “why did he lie?” — Williams offered only this: “I suspect that question will be answered in court.”

Travel ban 2.0 set to begin Thursday

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/politics/revised-travel-ban-thursday/index.html

 

(CNN) After months of winding through the courts, the so-called “watered down,” revised version of President Donald Trump’s fiercely litigated travel ban will finally go in effect at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Here’s what to expect for version 2.0:

Who can’t enter the US?

The test for foreign nationals under the Supreme Court’s ruling is whether one has a “credible claim of bona fide relationship” with either an entity (like a school or a job) or a person living in the US (such as a spouse).
If you can’t sufficiently establish such a close relationship, you are banned for 90 days if you are from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan, and 120 days if you are a refugee from any country.
The new guidelines, sent to overseas posts on Wednesday, say that applicants must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling in the US, according to a senior administration official. They have not yet been posted by the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security and could be subject to change.
Advocacy groups such as Amnesty International plan to send researchers to US airports, such as Dulles International Airport and John F. Kennedy Airport on Thursday, to monitor developments and observe implementation of the ban in case any disputes arise.

Who is exempt from the ban?

Before the executive order was halted by the courts, the following categories of travelers were excluded from the travel ban (and are expected to remain exempt this time around):
  • US citizens
  • Legal permanent residents (aka green card holders)
  • Current visa holders
  • Dual nationals
  • Foreign nationals with “bona fide” family, educational or business ties to the US
  • In addition, the executive order permits the issuance of a visa to, and entry of, someone who would otherwise be excluded on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of DHS and the State Department.
Homeland Security spokesperson David Lapan confirmed to CNN that the President’s revised executive order “would not affect persons who arrive at our ports of entry with legitimate travel documents.”
“The professional men and women of DHS expect ‘business as usual’ at our ports of entry upon implementation of the March 6 EO,” he added.

Why is this happening?

The intent behind the executive order was hotly debated for the past several months.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the US.
But the text of the executive order states that “additional scrutiny” is required for foreign nationals traveling from the six identified nations because “the conditions in these countries present heightened threats. Each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones.”

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

Washington (CNN) As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

“I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. “To me — in other words — the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
Top intelligence officials have raised alarm about Russia’s cyberattacks, calling them a “major threat” to the US election system. In public hearings on Capitol Hill and classified briefings behind closed doors, intelligence officials have drawn the same conclusions: Russia launched an unprecedented attack on America’s electoral process during the 2016 presidential campaign and — barring a full-throated response from the US — the Russians are almost certain to do so again.
It’s a warning some fear the White House isn’t taking seriously.
In a recent closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers expressed frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince the President to accept US intelligence that Russia meddled in the election, according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
Another congressional source said Rogers has shared concerns with lawmakers about the lack of White House focus on the continued threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to US voting systems. In addition, the US intelligence community sees such potential threats not only from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.
One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief. But the official acknowledged that Trump has vented his frustration with officials outside of the briefings about the amount of attention paid to the investigation into Russian election interference.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump is taking Russian cyberattacks seriously and said the administration is taking action — albeit quietly.
“The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity, and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism,” Spicer said in a statement.
Spicer noted that Trump has upheld the sanctions the Obama administration put in place against Russia, signed a cybersecurity executive order to consolidate responsibility for protecting the government from hackers and created an election commission. That commission has yet to convene in person but met via conference call on Wednesday.
But some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering.
“We haven’t done anything,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We passed a bill through the Senate, and it’s hung up in the House. Tell me what we’ve done?”
Asked what he wants the President to do, the Arizona Republican said he should tell the House “to take up the bill we passed through the Senate. Sign it, get it out there.”
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, according to sources that have spoken to Trump about the issues.
The collusion probe is only one element of a larger landscape. The FBI’s counterintelligence team has been trying to piece together exactly how Russia interfered in the election, in order to learn techniques and adapt for the future. This part is less about collusion and more about Russian cyberattacks against US political organizations and attempted hacks of voters’ personal information.
Former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, testifying in front of the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, faulted Obama for failing to take action against Russia more quickly when he was president. But he unleashed his fury at Trump for doing so little to curtail Russian aggression.
“It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It’s his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber offensive because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today,” said Burns, a career foreign service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. “And if he continues to refuse to act it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and a career civil servant, also highlighted the ongoing threat from Russia, saying, “I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct influence operations in the US, which will include cyber intrusions.”
But the President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention. Trump takes questions about Russia personally, sources said, because he sees them as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
“He thinks one equates with the other,” one Republican congressional source said. “He can’t admit anything that may taint his election. He is more hung up on how it affected the election outcome than what Russia did.”
In his statement for this story, Spicer also referenced the election outcome, saying, “The ballot boxes were not hacked and the tallies were unaffected. Numerous authorities have confirmed this.”
Another source close to the President says Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being “organized as a challenge to him.”
Trump aired those frustrations this week on Twitter, writing, “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”
In Trump’s mind “he had nothing to do with Russia,” one source said. “He knows in his own mind there is not one single iota of anything that could implicate him.”
One administration official suggested there wasn’t necessarily a need for Trump to convene briefings on election interference — aside from his daily intelligence briefing — because little has changed since Trump was briefed on the matter in January, before his inauguration.
At that point, the 17 intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of disparaging Hillary Clinton while boosting Trump and undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.
Since that briefing, there have been major developments on the cyber front. The final days of the French election featured a hack-and-leak attack targeting Emmanuel Macron, now the president of France. And US officials believe Russia hacked Qatari state-run media and planted a fake news story that which helped trigger a diplomatic crisis among critical US allies in the Gulf.

Trump’s skepticism

During the campaign and since taking office, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia was responsible for the election-related cyberattacks. He has blamed the Democratic National Committee, China and “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Trump has only once stated clearly and in public that Russia was behind the hacks — during a news conference as President-elect on January 11, just days after his briefing from top intelligence officials.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” Trump said.
On Monday, Spicer said the President stands by his assessment from January. The intelligence community has found no evidence that other countries also meddled in the election, an intelligence official said.
A source familiar with the President’s thinking said he views Russia’s action as something that “everybody has been doing to each other for years. Everybody spies,” the source said. “He believes that intel operations hack each other.”
The result: Trump sees the Russian hacking story as “nothing new.” In fact, the source said, Trump views it as “the establishment intelligence community trying to frame a narrative that is startling to the average viewer, but he regards it as business as usual.”
Intelligence experts disagree. They describe Russia’s actions as far from the usual foreign espionage attempts.
John Hultquist, the director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cyber security and threat intelligence company, said Russia broke the rules in the “gentlemen’s game of espionage” by stealing information, leaking it and using it to try to influence voters and undermine the democratic process.
“In every previous incident, we believed they wouldn’t cross the next red line. They’ve shown us they’re willing to do so,” said Hultquist, who has a military background and is an expert in cyberespionage. “If we fail to respond with resolve they learn that they can get away with it.”
The administration’s inaction is raising alarm with experts like Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a counter-terrorism expert who recently testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee about Russia’s efforts in the 2016 election.
“It’s ridiculous that nothing’s been done,” Watts said. “There is no Russia policy. No one knows if they can work on Russia. No one knows what their assignment is with regards to Russia.”
While Trump may have little concern about Russia’s election aggression, other top officials in the administration have been vocal about the threat.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in May that Russian cyberattacks remain a “major threat” to the United States, especially after Russia showcased its aggressive posture by interfering in the 2016 election. But he acknowledged that the US still hasn’t devised a clear strategy to counter the Kremlin.
“Relative to a grand strategy, I am not aware right now of any — I think we’re still assessing the impact,” Coats told the Senate intelligence committee in early May.
Later that month he reiterated his concerns in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think we’re learning that we do need to take this seriously — which we do,” Coats said. “And shaping a policy and a plan to address this, I think, rises to a top priority.”
But across the government, administration officials appear to be publicly confirming the concerns NSA Director Rogers expressed privately –Russia’s attacks on American democracy aren’t a top priority for Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, testified earlier this month that during his nine private conversations with Trump, the President never asked about Russia’s meddling in the election or what was being done to protect the country against future Russian interference.
“I don’t recall a conversation like that,” Comey told the Senate intelligence committee, shortly after his testimony describing a President who seemed much more interested in making sure that the public knew he wasn’t personally under investigation as part of the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified that he had never received a briefing on Russia’s election meddling efforts — even before he officially recused himself from the collusion investigation.

Working around the President

Obama retaliated against Russia’s interference in the election in January with a package of sanctions that included ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the US, closing two Russian compounds and sanctioning two Russian intelligence services.
While the Trump administration has upheld those measures, it has not taken additional steps.
But lawmakers have tried. The Senate passed a bill to slap Russia with new sanctions for its election interference and the legislation has moved to the House, which would also need to pass it before it goes to Trump’s desk. But congressional sources said the Trump administration is hoping to water down the sanctions package, which the White House is eyeing warily.
“I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how will the Congress craft them and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them,” Spicer said Friday.
There are also bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to develop a policy to prevent Russian meddling in future US elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, says he is working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, on legislation to create a 9/11-style commission to explore what happened in 2016 on the cyber front.
Graham tells CNN their idea is to create a commission made up of all experts — no politicians. “We want to look at the vulnerabilities on cyber security and get policy recommendations from experts on how to harden our infrastructure,” said Graham.
Meanwhile, top US cybersecurity leaders are taking action on their own to prevent future meddling.
“This is one of our highest priorities,” Jeanette Manfra, one of the Department of Homeland Security’s top officials handling cyber issues and a career civil servant said at a Senate hearing last week. “And I would also note that we’re not just looking ahead to 2018, as election officials remind me, routinely, that elections are conducted on a regular basis. And so — highest priority, sir.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said earlier this month that he would keep in place a decision to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
The designation means that the federal government will put more resources toward protecting election systems and voting machines. They’ll get the same treatment as other “critical infrastructure” that is paramount to national security, like dams and the power grid.
Kelly’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Jeh Johnson, made the change in January shortly before leaving office. Johnson testified last week that he wished he made the decision sooner — before the 2016 election — but that he backed down after resistance from the states.

Mitch McConnell is trying to revise the Senate health-care bill by Friday

https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/mcconnell-is-trying-to-revise-the-senate-health-care-bill-by-friday/2017/06/28/63550800-5c18-11e7-9fc6-c7ef4bc58d13_story.html?utm_term=.a9fc5b485cda

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office as soon as Friday as he continues to push for a vote before Congress’s August recess.

The effort reflects the tight timeline McConnell faces in his attempt to hold a vote in July — and the pressure he is under to change the bill to garner enough support to pass it. With both conservatives and centrists pushing different policy solutions, Senate leaders were struggling to craft a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday that would attract votes without torpedoing the CBO’s official score of how the legislation affects coverage levels and federal spending.

In between closed-door lunches and meetings with McConnell and his team on Wednesday, a number of Republicans flashed visible signs of frustration even as they expressed cautious optimism that a vote was possible. Conservatives asked for the lifting of coverage mandates to lower premiums and requested higher limits on tax exemptions for health-savings accounts. Moderates asked for more generous tax credits for the working classes and a gentler phaseout of the expansion of Medicaid that their states have enjoyed under the Affordable Care Act.

Some members questioned McConnell’s handling of the issue — an unusual public rebuke of a leader who managed to preserve his party’s control of the upper chamber despite a stiff challenge from Democrats in last year’s elections.

“This has been way more difficult than it needs to be,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who was among five senators whose opposition to the bill prompted McConnell to postpone a vote this week.

With Vice President Pence prepared to cast the tiebreaking vote, and all Democrats opposed to repealing the 2010 law known as Obamacare, Republicans need the support of all but two of their 52 senators.

The draft bill that stalled this week would cut $772 billion from the nation’s Medicaid program over the next decade, by phasing out the program’s expansion under the ACA and reining in spending on the overall program, especially starting in 2025. It would also repeal or delay $541 billion in taxes, primarily on wealthy Americans and insurers.

The move to cut Medicaid, which covers nearly 70 million Americans, helps offset the bill’s generous tax cuts. But it has generated significant opposition among more than a half-dozen centrists who fear the reductions will impede the nation’s effort to address the opioid crisis and could leave many vulnerable Americans without any health coverage at all.

McConnell spent most of the afternoon in closed-door talks with GOP moderates who appear open to negotiation. The revolving door of meetings included Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) along with Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.).

“It is important to me that lower-income citizens have the ability to actually purchase plans that insure them and give them health care,” Corker said after his meeting with McConnell. “My hope is and my belief is that it is going to be addressed.”

President Trump, meanwhile, questioned in a tweet Wednesday afternoon why some were complaining about the bill’s impact on the long-standing entitlement program.

“Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill — actually goes up,” he tweeted.

The tweet included a chart showing that, after a downturn in the early 2020s, federal expenditures on Medicaid would increase in absolute terms under the Senate bill. The chart excluded another trend line, part of the Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the bill, showing that the legislation would result in nearly $800 billion less spent on Medicaid over the coming decade than if the ACA stays in place.

While the legislation is likely to undergo further revisions after this next update, McConnell is trying to move quickly to produce a new CBO score by the time lawmakers return to Washington in mid-July. That would give the Senate about two weeks to fulfill the majority leader’s goal of voting before the August recess.

McConnell and his aides plan to continue negotiations through the end of the week and will be in frequent communication with the CBO, according to McConnell spokesman David Popp.

The majority leader needs to bring on board about nine senators who have said they wouldn’t vote for the Better Care Reconciliation Act in its current form. Moving to the left could mollify the moderates from states that expanded Medicaid, while moving to the right would appease conservatives in the Senate — but also in the House, where any Senate bill would also have to pass.

One Capitol Hill aide described the situation as akin to the weeks leading up to the draft bill’s release, when McConnell presented chunks of the emerging legislation to the CBO to expedite the scoring process.

In a sign of how McConnell has only intensified negotiations in the past 24 hours, he huddled Wednesday afternoon at length with Heller and Capito, two Republican senators who have complained loudly that the proposal cuts Medicaid too deeply.

Heller left a weekly strategy lunch Wednesday and walked directly into McConnell’s private office in the Capitol. The two met for nearly 45 minutes. Heller darted out a back entrance and down a private hallway, evading reporters.

The activity followed a dramatic day on the Hill on Tuesday, when Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their ranks and postponed a vote until after the Fourth of July recess. The move bought Republican leaders more time to work out disagreements but also gave rise to new doubts about their ability to bring the matter to a final vote.

Trump is trying to help, mainly by wooing skeptical conservatives, which he has struggled to do. He convened a meeting of all GOP senators at the White House on Tuesday after McConnell announced that the vote would be delayed.

But the White House appears less involved in crafting specific policy tweaks. From the outset of the effort, McConnell and a small clutch of aides have controlled that process.

GOP leaders are exploring whether they can use some of the nearly $200 billion that the CBO has determined they can spend without violating Senate budget rules to address the priorities of the bill’s conservative and centrist critics.

Among the specific changes discussed Wednesday were an increase in the savings limits for health-savings accounts, more generous tax credits for lower- and middle-class earners, and a gradual step-down for people near the higher income threshold for Medicaid, according to senators and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.

Senators also proposed a more generous growth rate for Medicaid reimbursements after federal spending in the program was changed from an open-ended entitlement to a per-person cap. Under the current draft, starting in 2025 the federal government would apply the consumer price index for urban consumers, a lower inflation rate, to Medicaid payments.

Some moderates have also suggested keeping some of the taxes enacted with Obamacare in place as a way to avoid the necessity of deep cuts to Medicaid and other coverage.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a conservative who helped shut down the government in 2013 in an effort to repeal Obamacare, continued to call for fewer restrictions on the types of plans that can be offered. Cruz wants to allow insurers to offer bare-bones plans that do not meet minimum requirements, such as providing protections against charging higher rates for preexisting conditions, as long as they also offer at least one fully loaded option.

“What that does is it maintains the existing protections but it gives consumers additional new options above and beyond what they can purchase today,” Cruz told reporters. “That would have the effect of significantly lowering premiums and allowing more people to afford to buy insurance plans.”

Centrists such as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) worry that Cruz’s plan would cause a domino effect that would destabilize risk pools across the insurance market and create unfairly high pricing, particularly for women who need maternity care.

“Yes, you want cheaper plans, absolutely,” Cassidy said. “Unless you have a common risk pool, you end up with policies that don’t cover maternity. As best I tell, women don’t get pregnant without sperm.”

Cassidy called it an “existential question” when asked whether the legislation was back on track. “I can’t speak for the leader,” he said. “It’s the leader’s staff that’s drafting this.”

Paige Winfield Cunningham, Paul Kane, David Weigel, Elise Viebeck, Robert Costa, and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.