Finger pointing, frustration in eastern US storm’s aftermath
By SHAWN MARSH
Saturday, November 17
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Exhausted commuters pointed fingers and demanded answers Friday, a day after a modest snowstorm stranded motorists on slippery roads for hours, paralyzed the public transit network serving New York City and its suburbs and even forced some New Jersey children to stay overnight in their schools.
How, they asked, could a few inches of snow in a region used to this sort of weather lead to such chaos?
“Clearly we could have done better and we will do better,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a “full review.”
“We’re all unhappy with what happened,” he said.
The storm, which had earlier socked the South and Midwest, swept into the New York City metro area just before the evening commute Thursday before heading north into New England overnight.
The snowfall totals were modest in most places — 6 or 7 inches (15 or 18 centimeters) — but it was unusually icy and thousands of slow-speed car crashes led to gridlock that made it tough for plows to get through.
In West Orange, New Jersey, more than a hundred students stayed late into the night, some until morning, at a middle school after buses became stranded for hours and turned back. Staffers stayed overnight and made dinner for students who couldn’t get home.
“It was so long, I’m just excited to go home and go to sleep,” student Breanna Dannestoy told NBC New York.
Some New York City schoolchildren were stuck on buses for up to five hours. The last one got home at 3 a.m. Friday, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said.
Murphy, a Democrat, said “lousy” forecasts were partly to blame.
He took a pounding on social media from people complaining about his handling of the storm, including one of his highest-profile constituents. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, tweeted at Murphy that it took him nearly six hours to travel roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers). Murphy didn’t respond directly to his predecessor.
Gary Szatkowski, former chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in New Jersey, said on Twitter that it was the state’s poorly executed snow removal plan, not meteorologists, who screwed up.
“They were planning to clean up while freezing rain/sleet were pouring down out of the sky. That’s not a plan; that’s a recipe for disaster,” he tweeted.
De Blasio, a Democrat, said forecasts had led city officials to expect just an inch of snow. That meant city buses weren’t equipped with snow chains and salters weren’t out treating the roads ahead of the storm.
The wintry weather also caused a traffic nightmare in Pennsylvania, with numerous vehicles stuck for several hours from the Lehigh Valley to the New Jersey state line. Police sometimes drove on the opposite side of the highway, honking their horns to wake up drivers who had fallen asleep while sitting in traffic. Tens of thousands of businesses were without power Friday in Pennsylvania, mostly in the western part of the state.
Among the odd storm sights there was a camel named Einstein.
The animal was en route to an event put on by a Jewish organization when the vehicle he was traveling in became stuck north of Philadelphia, the group said. Einstein was not able to make it to his destination, as his handlers turned back to Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo where they started.
Some drivers woke up in their cars Friday morning after being stuck overnight on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. A multicar pileup on the George Washington Bridge partially choked off one of the three vehicle crossings across the Hudson River.
Buses stopped running, causing New York City’s major bus terminal to fill with passengers to such dangerous levels that officials closed the doors and had people line up around the block.
As many as 17 inches (43 centimeters) of snow fell in some areas of upstate New York. Many schools in upstate New York and northern New England were delayed or closed.
In Vermont, aside from the region’s traffic nightmare, the storm was a boon for Vermont’s ski resorts. Okemo Mountain and Stowe Mountain Resort opened Friday as the snow continued to fall. Sugarbush is opening Saturday. Killington Resort is already open and other ski areas plan to open later this month.
Some areas of Massachusetts received more than 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow in the storm, which turned to rain overnight to complicate the morning commute. State police said a stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike east was closed Friday morning after several tractor-trailer crashes.
Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., Karen Matthews in New York, David Porter in Newark, N.J., Bob Salsberg in Boston, Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., and Mike Catalini and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this story.
Lawyer for WikiLeaks’ Assange says he would fight charges
By ERIC TUCKER
Saturday, November 17
WASHINGTON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.
Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.
That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”
A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.
Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.
A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.
Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.
Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.
Assange could be an important link for Mueller as he looks to establish exactly how WikiLeaks came to receive the emails, and why its release of the communications — on the same day a highly damaging video of Trump from a decade earlier surfaced publicly — appeared timed to boost his campaign.
Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum for more than six years to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information.
The Australian was once a welcome guest at the embassy, which takes up part of the ground floor of a stucco-fronted apartment in London’s posh Knightsbridge neighborhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behavior and diplomatic unease.
Barry Pollack, a Washington lawyer for Assange, said he expected Ecuador to “comply with its obligations” to preserve asylum for him, though he acknowledged a concern that the county could revoke his asylum, expel him from the embassy and extradite him to the U.S.
“The burden should not shift to Mr. Assange to have to defend against criminal charges when what he has been accused of doing is what journalists do every day,” Pollack said. “They publish truthful information because the public has a right to know and consider that information and understand what its government and institutions are doing.”
The charges came to light in an unrelated court filing from a federal prosecutor in Virginia, who was attempting to keep sealed a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex.
The three-page filing contained two references to Assange, including one sentence that said “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”
It was not immediately clear why Assange’s name was included in the document. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s Eastern District of Virginia said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
The filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who posted it on Twitter hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange.
The case at issue concerns a defendant named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, a 29-year-old teacher who has since been indicted in Virginia on charges of enticing a 15-year-old girl to commit sex acts and to produce child pornography. There doesn’t appear to be any connection between Assange and Kokayi.
The since-unsealed document, a motion filed in late August asking to keep Kokayi’s case secret, mentions Assange in two boilerplate sections, suggesting a copy-and-paste error or that his name was inadvertently left in a template used for the common filings.
The filing suggests prosecutors have reason to believe they will be able to arrest and extradite Assange.
Ecuadorian officials say they have cut off his high-speed internet access and will restore it only if he agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of Ecuador’s partners, such as the U.S. and Spain. He is allowed to use the embassy’s WiFi, though it is unclear if he doing so. Officials have also imposed a series of other restrictions on Assange’s activities and visitors, and ordered him to clean after his cat.
Carlos Poveda, Assange’s lawyer in Ecuador, said he suspects Ecuador has been maneuvering to kick Assange out of the embassy through the stricter new living requirements it recently imposed.
He said possible U.S. charges, however, are proof his client remains under threat, and he called on Ecuador’s government to uphold Assange’s asylum protections. He said Ecuador would be responsible if anything happened to Assange.
With shrinking options — an Ecuadorian lawsuit seeking to reverse the restrictions was recently turned down — WikiLeaks announced in September that former spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist who has long served as one of Assange’s lieutenants, would take over as editor-in-chief.
In a brief interview in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hrafnsson called the U.S. news “a very black day for journalism.”
Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in Paris, Chad Day in Washington and Egill Bjarnason in Iceland contributed to this report.
Link to court filing: http://apne.ws/Me9YxB9
Look to the right for corruption
by Tom H. Hastings
When I was growing up a long time ago there was a presumption of prudential integrity for politicians. Yes, I suppose I was naïve, but as a boy from Minnesota I came to think of politics as a clean game in my formative years.
This may explain why I am nonplussed now with the acceptance of such low standards by so many, and frankly, at this time most of them with the lowest standards seem to be aligned with Trump out on the right. The voters rejected Trump for the most part in our midterms, but this is normal and he lost less than Obama did in 2010, so my question is really for the voters, not the buck naked corrupt Trump wing controlling the Republican party and the base.
Why do you accept, tolerate, and even identify with the dishonesty, the cheating, and the incivility of the leadership of your party? What is wrong with you? Can you help me understand why dirty tricks and robbing people of voting rights is fine by you?
Yes, I’d love to excuse them. Oh, they are working class and ignorant fools, how can they be expected to keep up? How can we hope that they will have decent values? They are all under-educated redneck fools.
When I finally finished my single parenthood and was able to contemplate college, I knew I’d have to focus. I did. I graduated top of my class, summa cum laude, tied with no one. First. I got all A grades with a C brain plus pure obdurate working class discipline. And here is the thing I knew. My journeyman when I was an apprentice in the carpenter’s union (1544 in Minneapolis) was far smarter than I ever was. His memory outdid mine every single day.
Working people are exactly as smart, and often smarter, than scholars. I’m an academic with a doctorate, and they don’t give those things out on box tops. It is tough. But most working people never get a shot at it. In my case, I was given a chance. Some get loans, some get scholarships, and in my case, my father took early retirement for a big bonus. He then paid for my bachelors degree. Yes, I still had to work, to pay for my cabin, my truck, gas, and my food and everything else, but I got tuition paid. Damn lucky. I never got my first college degree until I was 43 years old, but I got that sucker. Most poor kids and working class kids do not have that. Because I did, I figured out that workers and managers and owners and scholars are all equally smart, something I observed my long working career of more than half a century. I spent about 25 years doing physical labor and the last 25 doing intellectual work as an academic. I know in my bones that those who work with their hands and those who supposedly live the “life of the mind” are dead even in terms of raw intelligence.
So why vote for a sleaze? Why choose lies and corruption?
That is my challenge to laboring, hard working Americans and to anyone else who votes for these charlatans. Why allow yourselves to be tainted, to be seen as ignorant and selfish and without ethics? I know you are smart. Now be brave. You can see. You can figure out what is right and wrong. Denying votes is wrong. Cheating black people is wrong. Be fair, be honest, and sure, compete, fair and square. Stop taking the low road. It doesn’t look good on you.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoiceDirector and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.
Trump expects CIA briefing Saturday on Khashoggi killing
By DEB RIECHMANN
Saturday, November 17
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump awaited a briefing Saturday from the CIA on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after a U.S. official said American intelligence agencies had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing. The Saudi government has denied that claim.
“We haven’t been briefed yet. The CIA is going to be speaking to me today,” Trump told reporters before leaving the White House for a visit to California. “As of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.”
Trump said he will be talking with “the CIA later and lots of others” while he was on Air Force One, and would also speak with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In his remarks outside the White House, the president spoke of Saudi Arabia as “a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.”
“I have to take a lot of things into consideration” when deciding what measures to take against the kingdom.
The intelligence agencies’ conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies’ conclusion was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke only condition of anonymity Friday. The conclusion was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat has said the crown prince had “absolutely” nothing to do with the killing.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua New Guinea that he could not comment on “classified information.” He said Saturday “the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder.”
The United States will “follow the facts,” Pence said, while trying to find a way of preserving a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince’s entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this past week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor’s announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi’s death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom’s leadership, primarily the crown prince.
Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said “the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups.”
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince’s brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi “anything related to going to Turkey.”
“Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him,” she said.
“You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities,” Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: “The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim.”