Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly makes Democratic bid for Senate seat
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Wednesday, February 13
PHOENIX (AP) — Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after his wife and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he will run to finish John McCain’s last term in the U.S. Senate.
If he wins the Democratic nomination, Kelly would take on Republican Martha McSally in what is expected to be one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.
Kelly described himself as an independent-minded centrist who will take a scientist’s data-driven approach to solving problems such as climate change, wage stagnation and health care affordability.
“You see a lot of partisanship in Washington and a lot of polarization, and to some extent we’ve created that,” Kelly told The Associated Press. “It’s going to take people who are more independent to fix it. Arizonans value independence.”
If Kelly is nominated the race would pit the Navy veteran and astronaut against McSally, a trailblazing Air Force pilot, in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive in North Vietnam.
McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain’s seat after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last November in the race for outgoing Republican Jeff Flake’s seat. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission, but she was hurt by her embrace of President Donald Trump.
Kelly decried politicians who “ignore data and facts and in some cases don’t even believe in science,” but did not take on Trump directly, saying he’s “not going to focus on the presidency or the White House.”
The 2020 election will decide who finishes the last two years of McCain’s term. The winner would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022.
Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally. The party is also gauging whether Arizona could be competitive at the presidential level in 2020 after Trump won by 4 percentage points in 2016.
Kelly has never held elected office. He flew combat missions during the first Gulf War and was a Navy test pilot before becoming an astronaut along with his twin brother, Scott Kelly. He flew four space missions over 10 years and commanded the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2011.
Kelly and Giffords have pushed Congress to enact gun control measures with little success. They shifted their focus to state legislatures in recent years, helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections.
Giffords was severely wounded in a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. The shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event in Tucson left six dead and 13 injured.
Giffords played a prominent role in the four-minute video Tuesday launching Kelly’s campaign.
“I thought then that I had the risky job,” Kelly says to Giffords. “Turned out, you were the one that had the risky job.”
Kelly told the AP Giffords, who has been a rising Democratic star before the shooting, will join him frequently during campaign appearances.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the vacant Senate seat after his temporary appointee, former Sen. Jon Kyl, resigned after a few months in office.
Arizona has been a longstanding Republican stronghold, but a growing Latino population and frustration among women with Trump have helped Democrats make inroads.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix is also considering a Senate run that would likely position him to Kelly’s left politically.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m looking seriously at running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, and that hasn’t changed,” Gallego said on Twitter following Kelly’s announcement. “I’ll be making a final decision and announcement soon.”
Former Attorney General Grant Woods, a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat and a fierce critic of Trump, said last week he will not run for the seat.
McCain, a legendary and beloved Arizona politician, died last year from an aggressive form of brain cancer after more than three decades in the Senate.
Police detective killed by friendly fire in New York City
By MICHAEL R. SISAK, STEPHEN R. GROVES and MICHAEL BALSAMO
Wednesday, February 13
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police detective was shot and killed by friendly fire Tuesday night as officers confronted a robbery suspect who turned out to be armed with a replica handgun, Commissioner James O’Neill said.
“This appears to be an absolutely tragic case of friendly fire,” an emotional O’Neill said at a late-night news conference.
Det. Brian Simonsen, 42, was struck in the chest as multiple officers fired on the suspect at a T-Mobile store in Queens, O’Neill said. Simonsen, a 19-year NYPD veteran, was put in a squad car and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Sgt. Matthew Gorman was shot in the leg, O’Neill said. A passerby stopped and drove him to the hospital in his car. Gorman is in stable condition.
The suspect, a 27-year-old man with an extensive criminal record, was armed with an imitation firearm, O’Neill said. He was wounded and is hospitalized in stable condition.
“Make no mistake about it, friendly fire aside, it is because of the actions of the suspect that Det. Simonsen is dead,” O’Neill said.
Police swarmed to the store at around 6:10 p.m. after a 911 caller standing outside reported seeing the suspect — dressed in all black and carrying a duffel bag — take two employees to a back room at gunpoint, according to dramatic dispatch audio.
“No sirens, guys,” a dispatcher warns.
Simonsen and Gorman were working on another case nearby when the call came over and arrived around the same time as patrol officers, O’Neill said. At first, the front of the store appeared empty, he said.
Then a man matching the suspect’s description emerged from the rear of the store pointing at them what appeared to be handgun and police started shooting, he said.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” an officer is heard yelling on the dispatch audio over a barrage of gunshots.
About a minute later, Gorman tells dispatchers that he’s been hit and an officer screams for dispatchers to rush an ambulance to the scene.
Arwindern Singh, who lives across the street from the store, said he heard about 20 shots go off and thought they were firecrackers.
When he went outside, he said “all of a sudden there were cops all over.”
The gunfire blew out the store’s doors, showering the sidewalk with glass. Bullet holes pocked frosted windows decorated with the T-Mobile logo. Scores of police officers streamed to the scene, which was roped off with crime tape. Some walked together in a line, searching for evidence.
At Jamaica Hospital, officers guarded the emergency room entrance as O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Gorman and offered their condolences to Simonsen’s wife and mother.
“It was heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking,” De Blasio said. “His mom, who has suffered so much. His wife. The shock that they’re feeling was so painful to see.”
Simonsen should’ve been off Tuesday for a union meeting, but he opted to go to work so he could continue tracking a string of recent robberies, Detectives’ Endowment Association president Michael Palladino said.
Given the suspect’s criminal history, Palladino said: “I think we have to ask the question: Why was someone with such an extensive arrest record out on the street and not incarcerated?”
In 2009, Simonsen investigated the death of an 11-month old boy who drowned in a bucket of water at an unlicensed daycare while the woman running it was passed out on NyQuil. Simonsen testified at Kristal Khan’s trial, which ended in her conviction, that she “didn’t show any emotion” when he questioned her two hours after the incident.
The last New York City police officer killed in the line of duty was a 12-year veteran and mother of three who was gunned down in 2017 while sitting in a police vehicle.
Officer Miosotis Familia, 48, was writing in her notebook when ex-convict Alexander Bonds strode up and shot her through a window. Bonds, who had railed about police and prison officers in a Facebook video months earlier, was fatally shot by officers soon after the attack.
In December, a police officer on Staten Island survived being hit by friendly fire as officers responding to a domestic dispute call shot and killed a man carrying a knife.
De Blasio on Tuesday night praised officers for rushing into dangerous situations and taking decisive action when lives are threatened.
“They know it’s a moment where they cannot hesitate, where even a moment of hesitation can mean a life is lost,” De Blasio said. “That bravery and that resolve is something that we all need to understand.”
Balsamo reported from Washington. AP reporter Tom McElroy contributed to this report.
US, Poland launch Mideast conference despite uncertain aims
By MATTHEW LEE
AP Diplomatic Writer
Wednesday, February 13
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The United States and Poland are kicking off an international conference on the Middle East on Wednesday amid uncertainty over its aims and questions about what it will deliver.
Initially it was billed by President Donald Trump’s administration as an Iran-focused meeting, but the organizers significantly broadened its scope to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against the Islamic State group, Syria and Yemen. The shift was designed in part to boost participation after some invitees balked at an Iran-centric event when many, particularly in Europe, are trying to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after last year’s U.S. withdrawal and re-imposition of sanctions in its self-described “maximum pressure campaign.”
Yet the agenda for the discussions contains no hint of any concrete action that might result beyond creating “follow-on working groups,” and many of the roughly 60 countries participating will be represented at levels lower than foreign minister.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will attend along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his counterparts from numerous Arab nations, France and Germany are not sending Cabinet-level officials, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is staying away.
Russia and China aren’t participating, and the Palestinians, who have called for the meeting to be boycotted, also will be absent. Iran, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution this week, has denounced the meeting as a “circus.”
Pompeo predicted that the conference will “deliver really good outcomes” and played down the impact of lower-level participation. He told reporters in Slovakia on Tuesday that this “is going to be a serious concrete discussion about a broad range of topics that range from counterterrorism to the malign influence that Iran has played in the Middle East towards its instability.”
According to the agenda, Pence will address the conference on a range of Mideast regional issues, Pompeo will talk about U.S. plans in Syria following Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will speak about his as-yet unveiled Middle East peace plan.
“We think we will make real progress,” Pompeo said.
He didn’t, however, offer any details about specific outcomes.
The conference co-host, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, also steered clear of describing potential results. And, he made note of differences between the U.S. and Europe over the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, that also exist among Washington and Warsaw.
“Poland is a part of the EU, and hence we are of the opinion and we accept the policy of JCPOA,” Czaputowicz told a joint news conference with Pompeo on the eve of the conference. “We consider this to be a valuable element on the international arena.”
In a joint opinion piece published Wednesday by CNN, Pompeo and Czaputowicz said they didn’t expect all participants to agree on policies or outcomes but called for an airing of unscripted and candid ideas.
“We expect each nation to express opinions that reflect its own interests,” they wrote. “Disagreements in one area should not prohibit unity in others.”
In fact, three of Washington’s main European allies, Britain, France and Germany, have unveiled a new financial mechanism that the Trump administration believes may be designed to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is attending the Warsaw conference, but his main interest is in a side meeting on the conflict in Yemen, according to diplomats familiar with the planning.
Since Pompeo first announced the conference as a vehicle to combat increasing Iranian assertiveness during a Mideast tour in January, he has steadily sought to widen the program’s focus with limited success. Despite his efforts, Iran is still expected to be a major, if not the primary, topic of discussion, notably its nuclear ambitions, ballistic missile program, threats to Israel and support for Shiite rebels in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Kushner’s partner in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, made clear that the U.S. sees Iran as its top priority. In a series of tweets on Wednesday, he derided the Palestinians for insisting that their case is the region’s most important.
Greenblatt said that this stance “impedes nations from countering the common enemy of Iran.”
“Iran is the primary threat to the future of regional peace/security,” he added. “That’s what Palestinian leaders don’t grasp; as a consequence of being detached from new realities, we see Palestinians increasingly left behind/more isolated than ever.”
And, on his way to Warsaw, Netanyahu made clear he believed the conference is centered on Iran.
“It is a conference that unites the United States, Israel, many countries in the world, many countries in the region, Arab countries, against Iran’s aggressive policy, its aggression, its desire to conquer the Middle East and destroy Israel,” he told reporters.
The Trump administration has repeatedly denied allegations that it is seeking regime change in Iran. And yet, mixed messages continue to come from Washington.
Earlier this week, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton released a short video on the anniversary of the Iranian revolution in which he called Iran “the central banker of international terrorism” and accused it of pursuing nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them and of “tyrannizing its own people and terrorizing the world.” The video ended with a not-so-veiled threat to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “I don’t think you’ll have many more anniversaries to enjoy,” Bolton said.
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
By John LaForge
Donald Trump: “America will never be a socialist country.”
Too late. We already have socialism for the rich, with the nuclear power industry as a prime example.
On a level playing field, nuclear power would go bust. Those owners get financial supports or subsidies that safe renewables like solar power, geothermal, and wind power don’t get. Two particularly large government handouts keep the reactor business afloat, and without them it would crash overnight.
1) In a free market, the US Price Anderson Act would be repealed. The act provides limited liability insurance to reactor operators in the event of a loss-of-coolant, or other radiation catastrophe. The nuclear industry would have to get insurance on the open market like all other industrial operations. This would break their bank, since major insurers would only sell such a policy at astronomical rates, if at all.
2) The US Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) would also be repealed. NWPA is the government’s pledge to take custody of and assume liability for the industry’s radioactive waste. Without NWPA the industry would have to pay to contain, isolate and manage its waste for the 1-million-year danger period. The long-term cost would zero the industry’s portfolio in a quick “correction.”
Jeremy Rifkin: “From a business perspective, it’s over”
Even if the industry retained the above two subsidies, economists say the reactor business is finished. Jeremy Rifkin — the renowned economic and social theorist, author, political advisor to the European Union and heads-of-state, and author of 20 books — was asked his view of nuclear power at a Wermuth Asset Management global investors’ conference.
“Frankly, I think … it’s over. Let me explain why from a business perspective. Nuclear power was pretty well dead-in-the-water in the 1980s, after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. It had a come-back. The come-back was the industry saying: ‘We are part of the solution for climate change because we don’t emit CO2. It’s polluting, but there’s no CO2.’
“Here’s the issue: Nuclear power right now is six percent of energy of the world. There are only 400 nuclear power plants. These are old nuclear power plants. But our scientists tell us [that] to have a minimum impact on climate change — which is the whole rationale for bringing this technology back — nuclear would have to be 20 percent of the energy mix to have the minimum, minimum impact on climate change — not six percent of the mix.
“That means we’d have to replace the existing 400 nuclear plants and build 1,600 additional plants. Three nuclear plants have to be built every 30 days for 40 years to get to 20 percent, and by that time climate change will have run its course for us. So I think, from a business point of view, I just don’t see that investment. I’d be surprised if we replace 100 of the 400 existing nuclear plants which would take us down to 1 or 2 percent of the energy [mix].
“Number 2: We still don’t know how to recycle the nuclear waste and we’re 70 years in. We have good engineers in the United States. We spent 18 years and $8 billion building an underground vault in Yucca Mountain to store the waste for 10,000 years, but we can’t use it. It’s already no good because there are cracks in the mountain. But any geologist could have told them we live on tectonic plates and you can’t keep underground vaults secure.
“Number 3: We run into uranium deficits according to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] between 2025 and 2035 with just the existing 400 plants. So that means the price goes up.
“Number 4: We could do what the French generation of new plants is doing and recycle the uranium to plutonium. But then we have plutonium all over the world in an age of uncertainty and terrorism.
“Finally, and this is the big one that people don’t realize: We don’t have the water. Over 40 percent of all the fresh water consumed in France each year goes to cooling the nuclear reactors. It’s almost 50 percent now. When it comes back [when reactor cooling water is returned to the lakes and rivers] it’s heated and it’s dehydrating our ecosystems, and threatening our agriculture. We don’t have the water, and this is true all over the world. We have saltwater nuclear plants but then you have to put them on coastal regions and you risk a Fukushima because of tsunamis….
“So it’s no accident Siemens [Corporation] is out [of reactor business], Germany is out, Italy is out, Japan is now out… I’d be surprised if nuclear has much of a life left. I don’t think it’s a good business deal.”
Rifkin is not alone in his assessment. William Von Hoene, Senior Vice President of Exelon Corp., said last April 16 at the annual US Energy Association’s meeting, “I don’t think we’re building any more nuclear plants in the United States,” Platts reported. “I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,” Von Hoene said. “I’m not arguing for the construction of new nuclear plants. They are too expensive to construct.”
John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.