Deadly fire shuts down key route to Yosemite National Park
Monday, July 16
MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) — A wildfire that killed a California firefighter grew quickly and forced the closure of a key route into Yosemite National Park as crews contended with sweltering conditions Sunday, authorities said.
The so-called Ferguson Fire that broke out Friday scorched nearly 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) of dry brush along steep, remote hillsides on the park’s western edge. It was burning largely out of control, and officials shut off electricity to many areas, including Yosemite Valley, as a safety precaution.
Guests were ordered to leave Yosemite Cedar Lodge on Saturday as flames crept up slopes and the air became thick with smoke.
“You can’t see anything, it’s so smoky outside. It’s crazy,” said front desk clerk Spencer Arebalo, one of a handful of employees who stayed behind at the popular hotel inside the park.
He said it was surreal to see the property empty at the height of tourist season.
“We’re counting on being closed at least one more day,” Arebalo said.
Evacuations also were ordered in rural communities just outside the park, and people in nearby lodges and motels were told to be ready to leave if flames approach. A stretch of State Route 140 into Yosemite was closed, and motorists were urged to find alternate routes.
Temperatures spiking to 95 degrees (35 Celsius) and inaccessible terrain were making it difficult for crews to slow the flames, U.S. Forest Service fire Capt. Mike Seymour said.
Heavy fire equipment operator Braden Varney, 36, died early Saturday on the fire line, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Varney was driving a bulldozer to create a gap in vegetation to keep the flames from extending into a nearby community, according to Cal Fire Fire Chief Nancy Koerperich.
Varney’s body likely won’t be retrieved until Monday at the earliest because it’s in a “precarious location” and conditions were too dangerous over the weekend, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said.
The wildfire is one of several burning across the state and among 56 large blazes that are active in the U.S., most in the American West, a region that is struggling with drought and heat.
A blaze near the California-Oregon border that killed a 72-year-old resident and injured three firefighters was almost entirely contained after burning more than 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) of dry brush.
Crews got full control over a stubborn fire that scorched 142 square miles (368 square kilometers) of brush and destroyed 20 structures in Yolo and Napa counties. Investigators said an electric livestock fence that was improperly installed sparked the flames.
In the fire near Yosemite, investigators were trying to find out more details about Varney’s death Saturday, but they believe he was working his way out of the fire area when he was killed, Koerperich said.
“This certainly is going to be devastating to his family and those of us who call him family here with Cal Fire,” she said.
Varney had worked for Cal Fire for 10 years. His father also worked as a Cal Fire heavy equipment operator. He is survived by his wife, Jessica; daughter Malhea, 5; and son Nolan, 3.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered flags at the California Capitol to be flown at half-staff to honor “a man who dedicated his life to protecting his fellow Californians.”
Cease-fire holds after day of intense Israel-Hamas fighting
By ARON HELLER
Monday, July 16
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military lifted its restrictions along the Gaza border Sunday, indicating it had accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire that ended a 24-hour round of fighting with Hamas militants that had threatened to devolve into all-out war.
The military had shut down a popular beach and placed limitations on large gatherings as residents kept mostly close to home on Saturday amid dozens of rockets that were fired from Gaza. But after several hours of calm it said residents could resume their daily routines.
On Saturday, the military carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Gaza since the 2014 war, hitting several Hamas military compounds and flattening a number of its training camps. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.
The military said several mortar shells were fired even after Hamas announced the cease-fire as sirens warning of incoming projectiles wailed in Israel overnight again. The military struck the mortar launcher early Sunday but the calm held, with neither side appearing eager to resume hostilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not accept a cease-fire unless it included an end to all militant hostilities, including incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza that have devastated nearby Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.
“The Israeli military has delivered its most punishing blow against Hamas since the 2014 war. I hope they got the message. If not, they will get it later on,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
After several balloons drifted into Israel Sunday, the military said it targeted the Hamas squad that had launched them from the northern Gaza Strip.
Hamas police also announced an explosion Sunday at a house in Gaza City that killed a father and son, aged 35 and 13. The explosion appeared to be an accidental blast related to militant stock piles of explosives. Hamas said it would investigate.
Israel said it unleashed Saturday’s barrage in response to weeks of violence along Gaza’s border — including a grenade attack Friday that wounded an officer — as well as sustained Hamas rocket attacks and a campaign of incendiary devices floating over the border.
Hamas responded with more than 200 projectiles toward Israel communities, evoking memories of the three wars the sides have waged over the past decade. Israel said its Iron Dome defense system shot down more than 20 projectiles.
On Sunday evening the military announced that following a “situation assessment” it had reinforced Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the south of the country. It added that a small number of reserve army soldiers were called up.
Israel also destroyed several Hamas attack tunnels, as well as factories involved in the production of the incendiary kites and balloons, and a Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza.
“We have no intention of tolerating rockets, kites, drones or anything,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “I hope that Hamas will draw conclusions and if not, they will have to pay a heavy price.”
Two teenagers were killed and several others were wounded when Israel struck an unfinished five-story building near a Hamas security compound and a public park in Gaza City, reducing the structure to rubble. The military said Hamas was using it as a training facility and had dug a tunnel underneath as part of its underground network.
The rare strike in the heart of Gaza City blew out windows at a nearby mosque, an art gallery, government offices, a tech start-up company and dozens of houses, leaving light fixtures and wiring dangling. The Al-Azhar university said its classrooms and the dentistry college lab were also damaged.
Speaking to thousands attending the two teenagers’ funeral, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue Gaza protests and to take revenge for the teens. He also met with the U.N. Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, who urged both sides to maintain calm
“Yesterday we were on the brink of war, and it has taken the concerted efforts of everyone to make sure that we step back from confrontation,” Mladenov said in Gaza. “Everybody needs to take a step back.”
The strike that killed the teenagers unleashed a Hamas’ launch toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, where a rocket hit the Buchris family home.
“We were sitting in the living room and all of a sudden, the aquarium exploded and there was smoke everywhere and glass flew everywhere,” said Aharon Buchris, who was wounded along with his wife and two teenage daughters, as he awaited surgery in hospital.
Israel has been warning Hamas that while it has no interest in exacerbating hostilities, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign of incendiary attacks on Israeli border communities.
Hamas-led border protests are aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.
With Israel focused on efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in neighboring Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence in Gaza. Netanyahu has also come under pressure from southern Israeli communities under rocket fire from Gaza.
Hamas, meanwhile, has been trying to break out of its isolation and spotlight the hardships of the impoverished strip without invoking the full wrath of Israel.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
Lawsuit alleges USA Diving ignored sex abuse of divers
Monday, July 16
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two former divers are suing USA Diving, accusing the national governing body of ignoring or obstructing inquiries into allegations that a coach sexually abused them when they were young athletes dreaming of Olympic glory.
The federal lawsuit, filed last week, names Indianapolis-based USA Diving, Inc., the Ohio State University Diving Club and Will Bohonyi.
The suit alleges that Bohonyi, who had coached at the Ohio State University Diving Club and was fired in 2014, coerced and forced the divers into frequent sex, telling them, “You owe me this,” The Indianapolis Star reported.
Calls to a telephone listing for Bohonyi’s most recent Columbus, Ohio, address went unanswered.
USA Diving declined to comment Monday, with a spokeswoman saying that, “Providing a safe environment for our members is of tremendous importance to USA Diving, and we take these matters very seriously.”
Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said the school opened an administrative investigation in 2014 after learning about the allegations against Bohonyi and he was fired in August 2014.
The university said Bohonyi was hired as a part-time, paid assistant diving coach in September 2012 and remained in that role until his termination.
Bohonyi has been on USA Diving’s list of banned coaches since 2015, but the lawsuit alleges that action didn’t happen until six months after Ohio State University investigated one of the women’s allegations and fired him. The report, the suit contends, was provided to USA Diving.
During that time period, it alleges that Bohonyi forced that girl — an Olympic hopeful — to perform sex acts numerous times while she was a minor.
She also sent him hundreds of naked photos, the suit alleges, saying that Bohonyi “psychologically coerced” her into believing that she “was required to perform sexual services in exchange for her continued involvement in diving.”
“He preyed on her age, vulnerability, and dreams of becoming an Olympian, and used the power structure and imbalance of power (coach/athlete) to make her believe she was required to sexually service him in exchange for her involvement in diving for Team USA,” it alleges.
The suit also alleges that Ohio State has had possession of the naked photos for almost four years and “no action has been taken.”
Ohio State said it notified campus police, USA Diving and Franklin County Children’s Services, as well as law enforcement in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the lawsuit says teammates discovered the diver’s sexual relationship with Bohonyi at a national competition.
Johnson said Monday that a campus police investigation was opened in August 2014 and then closed at the complainant’s request before being reopened this January, also at the former diver’s request.
He said university police are working with the county prosecutor’s office in that pending investigation.
Allegations of sexual misconduct also are the focus of separate, independent investigation pending about a now-dead Ohio State team doctor accused of groping male athletes and other students decades ago.
The physician, Richard Strauss, worked at Ohio State for two decades before retiring in 1998. The university says allegations against Strauss have been raised by former athletes from 14 sports. The independent investigators are reviewing those claims and well as whether the university knew of concerns about Strauss.
The other diver named in the lawsuit alleges that starting in 2009, that Bohonyi, who was her coach, cultivated an abusive relationship, eventually coercing her into daily sex.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
Opinion: Trump’s Energy Policy Is Deeply Flawed
By Mark J. Perry
It is easy for people to forget that sliding back into growing dependence on OPEC oil could not be more ill-timed. Such a policy would do more harm than good — a lesson we learned painfully in the 1970s.
President Trump’s strategy of appealing to Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, while tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran and reducing Iran’s oil exports to zero, adds up to shortages down the road. His plan to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum confused matters further, since imported specialty steel is needed for construction of oil and gas pipelines and other energy facilities in the United States.
Instead of pleading with Saudi King Salman to increase oil production, Trump should be addressing the imperative to stimulate oil production throughout North America, while also stressing renewed efforts at energy conservation.
No thanks to Trump, the United States actually increased its oil production in 2017, reaching an average of 9.4 million barrels per day. The 5.6 percent increase, small but encouraging, was driven by innovative advances in shale-oil production — increases in horizontal and directional drilling — and sustained by market forces.
But shale production alone is not enough to meet growing demand for oil. The government needs to create a regulatory structure that stimulates, rather than impedes, new energy exploration and production in coastal areas and the Alaskan wilderness. Opening up offshore areas in the Atlantic and Pacific, Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, would provide an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to last for decades.
The reality is that a goal of total energy independence is probably unachievable. It’s both too costly and unnecessary. Currently the United States relies on net imports of more than 3 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined products to meet nearly 16 percent of our country’s petroleum needs. This import dependence persists because the East and West coasts depend on shipments of foreign oil, since there isn’t enough pipeline capacity to provide access to Midwest oil. Also, certain grades of crude oil that some refineries need are supplied by other countries.
But we shouldn’t trade energy security for additional supplies from the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia has promised to provide an additional 2 million barrels a day, but it has yet to open its taps. Nor can we expect much from other pro-Western OPEC producers such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. There simply isn’t much spare oil capacity.
Meanwhile, the potential loss of 2.5 million barrels a day of Iranian oil — which is more than 2.5 percent of global supplies — could lead to shortages and a ramp-up in gasoline prices.
We need prudent insurance against a sudden cutoff in oil supplies from the Persian Gulf. The region is still a tinderbox. Much of the world’s oil supply would be at risk if war erupts between Israel and Iran. Oil traders worry that a major curtailment of the Persian Gulf’s output could risk creating a supply crunch that might drive world oil prices sky high.
While the Trump administration may view domestic oil production as a driver of job creation and growth, its most important role is energy security. We need an energy policy that makes the most of our domestic resources, diversifies our energy supply, and assures that American consumers and businesses have a dependable supply of affordable energy.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark J. Perry is a scholar at American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics at the Flint campus of The University of Michigan. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Are Judges Worth the Price?
By James Huffman
When it became clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States, I changed my voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated. (In Oregon we have an Independent Party, so unaffiliated is the equivalent of independent in most states.) I was offended by his manner, and — more important — worried about his views on trade and foreign affairs.
Most of my Republican friends did not follow suit. Almost to a person they argued that Trump’s many downsides would be offset by preventing Hillary Clinton from appointing new federal judges. The courts were their highest priority, and not without good reason. Federal judges serve for life, while presidential misdeeds and policy blunders can have a much shorter shelf life.
Now that Trump has named his second Supreme Court nominee (one confirmed), 34 Courts of Appeals nominees (22 confirmed) and 96 District Court nominees (20 confirmed), my friends who remained loyal to the Republican candidate must be feeling vindicated. Especially so since Trump has been uncharacteristically deferential to well-informed conservative and libertarian advisers. For my part I am generally pleased with Trump’s judicial appointments, but I worry at their price, particularly in Trump’s ill-informed and often intemperate approach to trade and foreign affairs.
When our president states that Angela Merkel’s Germany is “totally controlled by Russia,” that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan would “probably kill” any future trade deal between the United States and Britain, that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be as reliable as our own intelligence agencies on the subject of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, do any of my Republican friends have second thoughts about their loyal support for the Republican nominee?
When our president imposes tariffs that will cost American jobs and impose higher prices on American consumers, do my Republican friends ask themselves what price is too high to have secured courts more to our liking? When our president strides off in front of the Queen of England as is she were just another nameless woman passing through his life, are my friends just a little embarrassed?
I am delighted with Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and look forward to two more years of good nominations to the federal bench from bottom to top. I am also pleased with much of what Trump’s Cabinet members have accomplished in deregulating an over-regulated economy and with Congress’ reform of the federal tax code. And I don’t mind that Trump has brought a dose of straight talk to international diplomacy, which has been too long a mysterious dance of obscure signals and hidden agendas.
But informed straight talk is one thing. Blunderbuss projectiles fired from the unconstrained mouth of a man who knows little of the world and apparently listens to no one (except on the appointment of judges) is another. I am optimistic that our long-term allies and friends know that Trump, like all American presidents, is temporary. This seemingly irrational disruption will pass and our mutual commitment to democracy and freedom will, perhaps, emerge stronger for the experience.
But our enemies are not biding their time until a new American president arrives. Nothing makes the authoritarian stronger than the passage of time without serious opposition or consequence. Any suggestion that Russia will be given a pass on its annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, that Bashar al-Assad’s continued tyranny in Syria will be accepted as too far from home, or that North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs will be allowed to continue under feel-good agreements like that between Trump and Kim Jong-un, will do irreparable harm to the prospects for global peace and lead to the continued suffering of millions of people.
Decades of failure attest that these are not easy challenges, but we have a president who thinks they are. His confidence that he alone has the answer to every international challenge makes him a very dangerous player in a very dangerous world. Not to mention an embarrassment to national pride.
So are the judges worth the price? I hope my Republican friends are open to reconsidering when the 2020 primary rolls around. At that point, with a different nominee, it will not be too late to have their cake and eat it too.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.