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Friday, September 22, 2017

Poland's premier blasts EU before talks with Hungary leader

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Poland’s prime minister has accused European Union leaders of being politically motivated in criticizing her government’s judiciary overhaul as being a threat to the rule of law.

Beata Szydlo made the remarks late Thursday, just hours before hosting Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, many of whose policies are also seen by the EU as undemocratic.

Szydlo told a pro-government radio station that EU leaders have no authority to assess the changes in Poland’s court system and that their motives are political. She blames Poland’s opposition for having inspired EU censure.

Szydlo’s talks with Orban on Friday will include their refusal to accept any migrants under an EU relocation plan, which is another major area of their governments’ conflict with the EU.

Syrian activist, daughter found dead in Turkey

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Turkey’s state-run news agency says a Syrian activist and her journalist daughter have been killed in their home in Istanbul.

Anadolu Agency said the bodies of 60-year-old Arouba Barakat and 22-year-old Hala Barakat were discovered late Thursday after friends worried about the journalist, who hadn’t showed up for work, alerted police.

There has been a string of attacks against activists in Turkey. The Islamic State group has claimed the killings of four Syrian journalists in Turkey.

According to Syrian opposition activists, Arouba was a member of the Syrian National Council. She had backed the uprising against Syria’s president but also criticized some arms of the opposition.

Her daughter was a journalist working for the opposition’s Orient news.

Anadolu said the women were stabbed.

Hundreds protest amid Spain crackdown on Catalan referendum

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Hundreds of pro-independence supporters in Catalonia are protesting outside a courthouse to demand the release of regional government officials arrested in a crackdown by Spanish authorities over a planned secession referendum.

The protest Friday in the northeastern Catalan town of Hospitalet de Llobregat is an extension of another started Thursday outside the Catalan judiciary headquarters in nearby Barcelona that attracted thousands. A pro-independence group says that about 2,500 supporters were attending the protest in Hospitalet.

Many of the demonstrators in Barcelona had slept overnight near the judiciary building in tents or hammocks strung up between lampposts.

The Catalan National Assembly civic group has called for the protests to continue until the near dozen officials detained Wednesday are released.

Spain’s central government says the planned Oct. 1 referendum is illegal.

Trump's challenge: Diverting the white-hot spotlight from the Mueller investigation

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Can Donald Trump pull off a split-screen presidency?

With the amped-up Mueller investigation again dominating the news, the president wants to ensure that other issues—from tax cuts to immigration—aren’t drowned out by the pounding drumbeat of investigative stories.

That was a technique pioneered by Bill Clinton, who tried to stir interest in even minor initiatives—from school uniforms to television V-chips—while he was being impeached over the sex-and-lies Monica Lewinsky scandal. And it worked in the sense that Clinton’s approval ratings remained relatively high as many Americans concluded they cared more about what he was doing for them than his moral failings.

Trump faces a more difficult path. He faces a media establishment more staunchly opposed to his style and his agenda, even though there was plenty of media disgust about Clinton’s affair with a White House intern. And while Ken Starr’s office had its share of leaks, Robert Mueller’s operation seems to be sharing the fruits of its investigation on almost a daily basis.

The recent cascade of leaks to the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN has kept the White House on the defensive—and crowded out much of the other news, especially on prime-time cable.

It’s hard for slow-motion Senate negotiations on something called Graham-Cassidy or discussions on an undisclosed tax plan to compete with scandalous revelations. The president’s challenge is to counter the drip-drip-drip of scandal stories that are flooding the media landscape, especially on pocketbook issues.

Unlike Bill Clinton, of course, he’s got Twitter.

The headlines on the Russia probe have been erupting at a dizzying pace. Paul Manafort told he’s likely to be indicted. Manafort twice wiretapped by federal authorities—were any conversations with Trump picked up? Manafort offered to give a Russian billionaire private briefings during the campaign. Manafort spoke of cashing in on his position as campaign chief to pay off his debts.

And White House officials confirmed in stories yesterday that Mueller has asked for documents on such sensitive topics as Trump’s firing of James Comey and Michael Flynn, and his discussion of classified information at a meeting with two Russian diplomats. The prosecutor also wants records of any Trump discussions on handling a New York Times inquiry on his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Some of the material may be leaking from the congressional panels investigating possible collusion with Russia, but Muller’s operation appears to be the main source—with the disclosures aimed at ratcheting up public pressure on Manafort. It is, of course, illegal to leak details of a criminal investigation.

Trump has no choice but to fight back against the investigation he has denounced as a witch hunt. But it would be risky for him to let Mueller utterly overshadow his agenda.

Dean Martin's daughter reflects on father's music legacy, funny encounters and rumors

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Deana Martin knew she wanted to be an entertainer when she sat in the front row of the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel and saw her father Dean Martin entertain all of Las Vegas.

“My dad would walk out in a tuxedo with a red pocket square,” the 69-year-old told Fox News. “He would sing and he was funny. He looked great and the audience loved him. It was like magic. So I always wanted to be an entertainer.”

DEANA MARTIN SHARES FAVORITE MEMORY OF JERRY LEWIS

Deana, who’s traveled the world performing beloved jazz hits, recently unveiled her new album “Swing Street.” The release was recorded at Capitol Studios, the same place where she watched her father record his first number one hit, 1955’s “Memories Are Made of This,” which is also the title of her memoir.

But before Deana dedicated her life to performing, she made sure to get some lessons from the very best.

“Frank Sinatra was really the one who turned the light on for me,” she recalled. “I said to Frank, ‘How do you do it? He said, ‘Oh, by taking a big breath, I push from the diaphragm, and I can tell before a note comes out if I’m going to be on pitch or not.’ I said, ‘Really, does my dad do that?’ He said, ‘No, he has no idea what he’s doing. He just does it.’”

But life wasn’t just one grand musical number on 601 Mountain Drive with her no-nonsense dad.

Dean Martin with daughter Deana as a toddler.  (Courtesy of Deana Martin)

“He was an Italian father,” she said, chuckling. “He would go, ‘These are the rules. You make your bed in the morning, you clean up, you come straight home after school, you do your homework, you’re on time for dinner. And this is it. If you don’t want to live by those rules, there’s the door.’ I would go, ‘Dad, I’m 9!’ He’d say, ‘Come on! Rules are rules!’ We never wanted to do anything to disappoint him.”

And there were plenty of perks to being one of Dean’s beloved daughters. Deana considered the Rat Pack as her uncles, who were constantly over at her Beverly Hills home. On Christmas, she sang carols with Rosemary Clooney and as a teen, met some of her rock idols.

“Elvis [Presley] idolized my dad,” she explained. “I remembered meeting Elvis and he was the one who told me my dad was the king of cool. I’ll never forget that. Another fabulous time was when my dad was MCing The Hollywood Palace. Raquel Welch was the card girl and the Rolling Stones were on the show.

“I was 16 when my dad called me on the phone. He said, ‘I don’t know who they are, but I think you and your sisters would want to come down and see these guys. It looks like they just got off the boat!’ When we got there, my dad comes out and says, ‘Alright ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got this next group. I’ve been rolled and I’ve been stoned, but I’ve never seen anything like this!’”

However, there was that one time when a teenage Deana was mortified that her father met a young Paul McCartney in 1964.

“My dad went to a party and Paul McCartney was there,” she said. He came up and said, ‘Hi John, it’s nice to meet you.’ Paul said, ‘I’m not John, I’m Paul McCartney.’ Dad responded, ‘I call everybody John.’ And he came back home and told me this. I was like, ‘Dad, you’re embarrassing me!’”

When Dean recorded “Everybody Loves Somebody” a year later, he made sure to remember McCartney.

“That song knocked the Beatles out of first place,” said Deana. “Nobody else could do that. Not Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. Dad sent two telegrams, one to Presley and another to Sinatra. And it just said, ‘I did it.’”

After any performance today, Deana loves meeting fans who’re quick to share their unforgettable encounters with Dean. However, she’s still shocked many people still believe her father was a shameless alcoholic. In 2015, Deana told the Los Angeles Times Dean would swig apple juice, not liquor, on stage and was always on time for dinner with his family every night.

“I’m amazed when people come up to me after a show and say, ‘How could your dad do so much work when he was always drinking?’” she explained. “My jaw drops. Because that was his gimmick! I guess he really was a good actor because people always thought that was true… I get a chill when people say that… I still have to clear it up.

“After all of these years, after the body of work he accomplished from singing in nightclubs to Martin and [Jerry] Lewis, the greatest comedy team ever. And all the movies, all the albums, all the number one hits. And the TV show for 20 years. How can people even think that? Obviously that’s not true! So when people say weird things, I just smile. Because that’s not how it happened.”

There is one rumor about Dean that is true. Deana confirmed her father had a nose job before finding fame in Hollywood — and he paid back the mystery donor who originally funded the surgery.

“He did have one. I have pictures!” she said.

DEAN & DEANA SINGING TOGETHER #1

Dean Martin with his daughter Deana.  (Courtesy of Deana Martin)

And there’s one thing few fans may not know about the pop crooner, who appeared in 55 films throughout his lifetime.

“They probably don’t know he was claustrophobic,” she revealed. “He never wanted to go in elevators. So when he would go to hotels, whether it was the MGM Grand or whatever, his suite always had to be on a low floor so he [could] just walk up the stairs. And many people know this one, but he loved to play golf. He would go to bed early just so he can get up early and play golf. In fact, he told me, ‘Deana, the reason why I work so hard is so I can play with all you kids and play golf.’ He was a scratch golfer at one point.”

Dean died at age 78 in 1995 from acute respiratory failure. And since then, Deana has never stop sharing her father’s legacy on stage to new, curious listeners.

“I’m always thinking about dad, what he went through in his life and how the world has changed,” she said. “He was a sweet, generous man who would just get up and do his thing.”

Playboy unveils Halloween costumes inspired by classic Bunny

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Playboy is looking to share plenty of treats for fans on Halloween.

In time for the spooky holiday, the men’s lifestyle magazine partnered with Yandy.com to unveil an officially licensed collection of costumes inspired by the iconic Playboy Bunny.

According to the women’s online retailer, this is the first time Playboy has collaborated in the development of Halloween costumes.

“Often imitated but never replicated, the Playboy Bunny costume is one of the most recognized costumes in the world,” wrote a Playboy rep to Fox News. “In partnership with Yandy, we brought the Bunny costume to Halloween for the first time in a fun mash-up of costumes and lingerie that bridge generations.”

The costumes pay tribute to the many eras that defined Playboy over the years, including founder Hugh Hefner’s signature smoking jacket, the ‘60s go-go dancer and the ‘90s lifeguard, made famous by Playboy cover girls Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra.

Hefner, 91, is known for hosting his annual star-studded Halloween bash at the Playboy Mansion. In fact, it was at his 2008 bash where he met his wife, 31-year-old pinup Crystal Harris, who was dressed as a French maid.

UK’s Express reported in 2013, the Playboy Bunny was born in 1960 when the first Playboy Club was opened. Waitresses wore a uniform called a “bunny suit” after the magazine’s logo. It featured a corset, bunny ears, a black bow tie, shirt cuffs and a fluffy cotton tail.

This isn’t the first time Playboy celebrated the past. Earlier this year, Hefner’s son, Cooper, asked his 54-year-old mother, model Kimberley Conrad, to be part of a photo shoot that would celebrate former Playmates from the ‘70s-‘90s for Mother’s Day.

The 26-year-old currently serves as Playboy’s chief creative officer. He recently appeared at the Playboy Club in London where he posed with Bunnies dressed in the classic suit.

The Playboy Collection by Yandy is currently available for preorder.

'My Giant Life' star Alicia Jay stands tall in her faith

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When Alicia Jay first heard of TLC’s “My Giant Life” she took offense with the show’s title. Standing at six foot six inches, the 36-year-old was bullied growing up for her tall stature and was often called a “giant.”

It was only after watching the show did Alicia begin to realize “giant” was a positive thing.

“The word ‘giant’ was really hard for me to get over because that was one of the words used to bully me as a kid,” Alicia told Fox News. “But one day my mom said, ‘You do live a giant life. You live a really giant life and have giant goals.’ I realized the description is actually accurate.”

Today, Alicia lives out every aspect of her life in a “giant” way. The reality star, who joins the cast of “My Giant Life” for Season 3, is “giant” in her faith, aspirations and life goals.

She decided to join the TLC show in order to help others who might be bullied for their height or any other reason.

“I was very depressed as a teenager and there were times that I do not remember because I was that depressed,” she told us.

But when she met other tall women in college she realized her height is actually a gift.

“I started loving my height, embracing it… I am who God created me to be and I stand tall in who I am,” she shared.

Faith is a huge part of Alicia Jay’s life and it is her Christian values that led to her decision to remain a virgin until her wedding night. She has been dubbed the “world’s tallest virgin.”

“Faith is the driving force in my life and without God, I wouldn’t be anything,” she said. “He is the center and he leads me in anything that I do.”

At 36, Alicia is still waiting for the right guy to come along. She says dating is very hard for her not only because of her height, but also because she is a virgin.

“In general, it’s really hard to date right now but you add in height and waiting to have sex for marriage and guys run for the hills,” she said. “The virginity thing, I’m just here to say it’s still an option because a lot of people don’t even think it’s an option anymore.”

“I’ve been on some crazy dates which you’ll see a little bit of on the show,” she teased.

Watch Alicia Jay on “My Giant Life” Sunday nights on TLC.

You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.

5 restaurant chains that don't exist anymore

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Fast food restaurant chains are a time-honored tradition in the United States. For nearly a century, eateries offering quick and tasty options have been springing up across America.

But over the years, tastes tend to change, and people begin craving new flavors and different dining experiences. And unfortunately, not every chain survives.

Here are five fast food franchises that flourished at one time or another, but ultimately failed to keep up with the times.

Burger Chef

Burger Chef had been gone for nearly two decades before a reference on AMC’s “Mad Men” renewed interest in the now-defunct franchise. Shortly after the episode aired, a 2014 Time profile detailed the chain’s humble beginnings in Indianapolis in 1958, as well as its rise to becoming nearly as ubiquitous as McDonald’s by 1967 (at the time, Burger Chef had only 100 fewer restaurants than Mickey D’s). General Foods purchased the chain and went on to open 1,200 restaurants by 1971. In the next decade, Burger Chef changed hands a few more times before being purchased by Hardee’s in 1982 with only a little over half of its once 1,200 locations. The last location closed in 1996.

Howard Johnson’s

FILE - In this April 8, 2015, file photo, customers walk into Howard Johnson's Restaurant in Lake George, N.Y. The site of the last Howard Johnson's restaurant in the United States is up for sale. Property owner Joe DeSantis confirms Wednesday that the parcel that includes the HoJo's in the New York village of Lake George is for sale. He denies reports that say the orange-roofed eatery has closed, saying he believes the restaurant's operator is running offseason hours. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

Customer’s walk into the last Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Lake George, N.Y.  (AP)

Only one Howard Johnson location remains in Lake George, N.Y., according to The Atlantic, but it was up for sale earlier this year. The chain began in 1925 as one store in the suburbs of Boston, with a soda fountain and an orange roof. Howard Johnson expanded his business to include more than just ice cream and operate as a full-service restaurant by 1929. In 1935, Johnson franchised the business and there were 130 Howard Johnson locations five years later. An Eater article about the last location in New York (where Rachel Ray once worked) writes that cost-cutting measures “degraded the quality of the food” after the company went public in 1961. Years later in 1979, the company went through a series of complicated ownership changes, resulting in its 1,040 restaurants and 520 motor inns eventually separating into different entities, leaving the restaurants to close one by one.

SITE OF LAST HOWARD JOHNSON’S RESTAURANT UP FOR SALE

Chi-Chi’s

According to Louisville Business First, the first Chi-Chi’s location opened in 1976 in Minneapolis, though its headquarters moved to Louisville, Ky. As of March 26, 1995, Family Restaurants, Inc. — the owner of Chi-Chi’s —  owned and operated 210 locations, and reported asales of $90.5 million as of the quarter ending that same month. But a little over a year later, there were only 199 locations and sales were down over 17 percent. Then, in 2003, right after the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Chi-Chi’s made headlines when a restaurant outside of Pittsburgh was at the center of the largest food-borne hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history, according to The New York Times. Contaminated green onions were blamed as the source of the outbreak, with the CDC reporting at least 3 dead and hundreds of others sickened. The company’s website says that all CHI-CHI’s Restaurants are now closed — they still sell Chi-Chi’s-branded Mexican-inspired foods including sauces, tortillas and salas at supermarkets — but Instagram and TripAdvisor indicate there’s still a Chi-Chi’s in Luxembourg. There’s also evidence the chain survived in China, Indonesia, Kuwait and the U.A.E.

PARTY ‘CRASHERS’ BACK THEIR CAR INTO A MEXICAN RESTAURANT, CAUSE $200K IN DAMAGE

White Tower

According to a restaurant profile in The Pennsylvania Gazette, White Tower was founded after a father and son saw a White Castle restuaurant in Minneapolis restaurant and decided they’d like to imitate it. The first locations opened in 1926 around Detroit and Milwaukee, where they sold hamburgers from white buildings with tower-like entrances. The two chains later clashed in a lawsuit, and White Tower was ordered to pay White Castle $100 for each new location it opened, and also send White Castle photos of said locations. White Tower’s distinctive restaurants dwindled from 230 to just around 20, until they eventually disappeared in the 1980s.

Kenny Rogers Roasters

While some may only associate his name with country music stardom, Kenny Rogers — along with former Governor of the state of Kentucky, John Y Brown Jr., also known for his role in the successful KFC chain — started the Kenny Rogers Roasters brand in 1991. Kenny Rogers Roasters eventually boasted 350 locations, and was even the subject of a “Seinfeld” plot, but filed for bankruptcy in 1998, leaving only seven stores open nationwide. Time reports that Nathan’s Famous Inc. bought the company and kept it in the U.S. until it was sold off to a foreign franchising group in 2008. While the company no longer prospers in the U.S., they seem to be doing well in Asia, with 88 locations still operating. 

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Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop is selling psychic vampire repellent

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It takes a lot for Gwyneth Paltrow — and her dubious lifestyle-site-turned-magazine, Goop — to faze us these days. But the queen of “wha?” has outdone herself with “Psychic Vampire Repellent,” currently on sale on Goop dot com.

Per the peppy product description, the $30 “spray-able elixir” is something “we can all get behind.”

The spray, manufactured by Paper Crane Apothecary, contains a mix of aromatherapeutic oils that have allegedly been “reported to banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them).”

Ingredients include “sonically tuned” water” and a blend of “gem elixirs,” including ruby, bloodstone and black onyx.

Also on the ingredient list: reiki, sound waves, moonlight and love.

Those looking to safeguard their aura should spritz the stuff “generously” around their heads — while simultaneously avoiding ingesting, inhaling or getting any in their eyes.

To be clear, this product is meant to ward off emotional vampires (meaning people who drain your energy), not the fanged sort. So if you’re traveling in Transylvania, bring backup.

It bears noting that the vampire spray is not FDA-approved.

This article originally appeared on New York Post

COULD the world come to an end?

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The Bible is more than clear in its theological claim that Jesus Christ will return to Earth at an undisclosed, future time. In fact, that belief is a central hallmark of the Christian faith.

And the latter point about the timing is essential to highlight, as scripture makes it clear that no one knows exactly when the so-called “second coming” will unfold. Yet, once again, here we are with some Christians setting a specific date — September 23, 2017 — for the purported fulfillment of certain prophetic signs or events.

It seems bizarre, considering that the Bible repeatedly and clearly speaks to our inability to know exactly when end-times events — and particularly Jesus’ return — will unfold. Matthew 24:36-37 tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” — and Mark 13:32 says the same.

But as I noted in my book “The Armageddon Code: One Journalist’s Quest for End-Times Answers,” time and again throughout history people have sought to ignore these verses and predict exactly when they believe the rapture — the belief that Christians will be taken up before cataclysmic, end-times events kick into high gear ­— or the end itself will unfold. 

And time and again, they have been wrong, bringing embarrassment not only on themselves and their followers, but on Christians who take the whole of scripture into account when diving into the massively complex debate over eschatology (the study of the end times).

You might recall Christian leader Harold Camping, who made international headlines in 2011 for twice predicting that the world would end — and getting it wrong both times. In the days and weeks leading up to the dates he set, some of his followers were so convinced he was right that they sold their homes and spent their savings helping spread the message that judgement would soon be upon us.

In the end, they were likely shocked to learn that Camping, as the Bible clearly notes, couldn’t have possibly known the “day nor hour.”

So, that brings us to September 23, a date that has sparked a range of speculation among various Christian cohorts. Some say they believe that the rapture will unfold on Saturday; others believe the alignment of the stars, sun and moon point to a coming series of prophetic events — and there are also some stranger theories involving “Planet X,” a purported planet that NASA says doesn’t exist but that some people believe could somehow destroy Earth.

Christian ministry Answers in Genesis, which dismissed the Sept. 23 hoopla, explained in a recent blog post the celestial happenings that have led to so much speculation about September 23:

On this date, the sun will be in the constellation Virgo (the virgin), along with the moon near Virgo’s feet. Additionally, Jupiter will be in Virgo, while the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury will be above and to the right of Virgo in the constellation Leo. Some people claim that this is a very rare event (allegedly only once in 7,000 years) and that it supposedly is a fulfillment of a sign in Revelation 12.

And since Revelation 12 discusses a “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head,” a connection is being made between what is described in Revelation and what’s slated to happen in the skies. On what basis, you ask? Beats me.

In addition to the problematic nature of connecting end times events to specific dates, there’s also another strange detail that those touting the September 23 theories have somehow missed: The same celestial arrangement has reportedly already happened in 1827, 1483, 1293 and 1056 — all in the month of September.

So the question is: what was being prophesied on those dates, if, indeed, September 23 is truly biblically significant? You can read all about the debate here.

Don’t get me wrong: As a Christian and a journalist who has spent a fair bit of time writing on the end times, I fully agree with Pastor Greg Laurie who recently told me, “We need to be students of Bible prophecy. I believe if we understand it correctly, it will just motivate us to live godly lives and do all that we can to reach our generation while we can.”

With that said, we also need to take seriously — as Laurie would argue — the scripture in its entirety, including those pesky verses in Mark and Matthew that tell us not to date-set. And sure, Jesus tells us in Luke that “there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” but he’s not specific and Christians seizing on various celestial happenings or events to definitively speak what they believe to be the heart and mind of God is unhelpful; in fact, as we’ve seen, it can be damaging.

My guess is that September 23 will be a day like any other. I wouldn’t worry; I wouldn’t panic. The best line of defense for those who believe the Bible is to be ready and waiting by following Jesus, living our lives right and sticking to our faith.

Obsessing over the end times isn’t healthy, but being aware of the ins and outs of what the Bible says is certainly both beneficial and warranted, which is why I wrote “The Armageddon Code” — a book that gives you a solid overview of the never-ending debate over Bible prophecy. 

It’s not crazy to look at world events and ponder whether the signs mentioned in the Bible are, in some form, coming to fruition; but it is bizarre and dangerous to start setting dates in violation of the very scripture you claim to hold dear.

World shares fall on North Korea concerns, China rate cut

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Most world stock markets fell Friday as investors turned cautious following new U.S. sanctions targeting North Korea and credit rating downgrades for China and Hong Kong.

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KEEPING SCORE: European shares were mostly lower in early trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 dipped 0.2 percent to 7,251.81 and Germany’s DAX was down less than 0.1 percent at 12,594.11. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures shed 0.1 percent to 22,301.00 and broader S&P 500 futures lost 0.2 percent to 2,496.60.

SANCTIONS: Geopolitical tensions ratcheted up after U.S. President Donald Trump authorized stiffer new sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons advances, drawing a furious response from Pyongyang. Trump’s administration said it would punish foreign companies dealing with the North, including by expanding the Treasury Department’s ability to ban anyone from interacting with the U.S. financial system. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un retaliated by calling Trump “deranged” and saying he’ll “pay dearly” for his threats, while Kim’s foreign minister reportedly said the country might plan to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

CHINA RATING: Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s credit rating after markets closed Thursday, citing rising debt levels. S&P lowered its sovereign rating by one notch, to A+ from AA-, saying credit growth increased China’s economic and financial risks. Then it cut Hong Kong’s rating Friday, citing risks posed by close ties between mainland China and the Asian financial center. The downgrade underscores challenges faced by China’s Communist leaders as they cope with slowing growth in the world’s No. 2 economy.

WEEK AHEAD: After the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee’s statement this week signaling it plans to trim its balance sheet and raise rates one more time this year, investors in Asia now turn their attention to key data due next Friday for Asia’s two biggest economies. They include a Chinese manufacturing survey and Japanese employment, retail sales and industrial production figures.

MARKET VIEW: “This week has seen Asian markets coming under pressure post-Fed FOMC meeting as the tightening bias squeezed emerging market stocks and currencies,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. She noted next week is also the last in China before a weeklong national holiday, so the “market may be exceptionally susceptible to outflows from retail investors, which could weigh upon price performance.”

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ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.3 percent to close at 20,296.45 and South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.7 percent to 2,388.71. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.8 percent to 27,880.53 and the Shanghai Composite fell 0.2 percent to 3,352.53. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5 percent to 5,675.70. Taiwan’s benchmark fell and Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower.

ENERGY: Oil futures were mixed. Benchmark U.S. crude added 13 cents to $50.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 14 cents, or 0.3 percent, to settle at $50.55 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 8 cents to $56.01 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 111.98 yen from 112.49 yen in late trading Thursday. The euro climbed to $1.1994 from $1.1940.

Iraqi Shiite militias join battle for IS-held town of Hawija

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The spokesman for Iraq’s mostly Shiite paramilitary troops known as Popular Mobilization Forces says they have joined the battle against Islamic State militants in the contested province of Kirkuk.

Ahmed al-Asadi says the Shiite militias were pushing west of the IS-held town of Hawija on Friday, following the formal launch of the operation to retake the area — one of the last extremist strongholds in Iraq — the previous day.

Plans to retake the town of Hawija there have been complicated by political wrangling among Iraq’s disparate security forces. The town and the governorate are disputed between Baghdad and the northern Kurdish autonomous region, where a referendum on independence is scheduled to take place next week.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders are pressing ahead with the referendum, which Baghdad dismisses as illegal.

Turkey to discuss response to Kurdish independence vote

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Turkey’s political and military leaders are due to meet to consider possible sanctions and other measures against Iraq’s Kurdish region if it goes ahead with a referendum on independence.

Turkey is convening a National Security Council — to be followed by a Cabinet meeting — on Friday as it steps up pressure on Iraq’s Kurds to abandon the vote slated for Sept. 25.

Ankara has forged close economic ties to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region but strongly opposes moves toward Kurdish independence. Turkey has a large ethnic Kurdish population and is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its territory.

This week, the military launched previously unannounced military exercises near the border with Iraq in an apparent warning to Iraq’s Kurds. Turkey’s parliament will also hold an extraordinary session on Saturday.

Selfies and self-reflection mark New Zealand election race

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Sitting on his campaign bus as it rattles through some of New Zealand’s struggling smaller towns, Prime Minister Bill English says the meteoric rise of his young opponent, Jacinda Ardern, took the nation by surprise and made him question himself.

“It tests your faith in your product and your faith in your approach,” English says during a rare quiet moment between the frequent stops at cafes and main streets. English enjoys these low-key meet-and-greets, a contrast to the larger rallies Ardern holds, where people treat her like a rock star.

New Zealanders vote Saturday in national elections. Opinion polls indicate the race is close, with some momentum swinging back toward the conservative incumbent after Ardern’s remarkable rise energized the race when she took over as opposition leader last month.

English says the polls have been volatile, and small changes could have a big effect on the outcome.

“People have been changing their views very quickly, and I think the polls have reflected that,” English says. “You’ve really taken what normally takes two to three years in a political cycle and telescoped it into six weeks.”

Ardern laughs when asked if she ever expected to do as well as she has so far.

“You know what, I really didn’t have any time to set any expectations,” she says. “It was just hit the ground running, and run a campaign that was good enough to win.”

At stake for both candidates is how to capitalize on New Zealand’s growing economy.

English, 55, says people should stay the course after his government set the country on a path toward increasing prosperity. He has promised tax cuts. Ardern, 37, says she wants to build thousands of affordable homes to combat runaway house prices, spend more money on health care and education, and clean up polluted waterways.

At a rally at an Auckland mall, excited fans asked Ardern to take selfie after selfie with them.

“I love her dynamism, her freshness, her energy and her honesty,” says Susie Powell, who attended the rally.

English says he thinks the televised debates between the two candidates helped swing the momentum his way, as people focused more on the issues and how policy changes would affect them. But his opponent accuses him of scaremongering over her plans for taxes and the economy.

“Certainly it’s been somewhat frustrating dealing with their negative campaign,” Ardern says. “But, from what I’ve seen, this is an election that’s going to come down to turnout.”

Ardern is hoping that if younger voters turn out in big numbers, it could help swing the election her way.

English’s campaigning has gone better than many expected, including himself. The former finance minister was seen by many as more of a numbers guy than a schmoozer. But he says he’s been surprised at how much he’s enjoyed all the handshaking. And New Zealand, with a population of just under 5 million, is a small enough place that he’s met some old colleagues by chance.

“When you’ve been in government, there’s always some proportion of people who aren’t happy with the things you’ve done, or haven’t done,” English says. “But I’ve found people at least polite. Very occasionally rude, but usually at least polite and often very warm.”

Angry French famer block Champs-Elysees in pesticide protest

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Angry French farmers are blocking Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees in a protest against the government’s agricultural policy.

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Sections of the normally pristine avenue were smothered in straw as about a hundred demonstrators brandished placards such as “Macron is killing farmers” and stopped morning traffic from passing Friday along the busy artery.

To appease the demonstration, French Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot came to speak to protesters and hear their complaints, while a farmers’ delegation was received at the presidential Elysee Palace.

The farmers are angry that Macron’s government banned a controversial pesticide called glyphosate, among other things. The pesticide is thought to be carcinogenic.

Dozens of armed police have been deployed to the scene and put up metal barriers to contain the protest.

FOX NEWS FIRST: North Korea may test hydrogen bomb in Pacific, states have huge hurricane garbage problem

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TOP OF THE MORNING

It’s Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Welcome to Fox News First. … If you subscribe to Top Headlines, you’ll get your dose of early-morning news and more right here … In the meantime, please spread the word: Tell your friends they can subscribe to Fox News First by clicking here.

Here’s your Fox News First 5 – the first five things you need to know today:

  • North Korea could test a hydrogen bomb in Pacific, South Korea media reports, after dictator Kim Jong Un vowed to take the “highest-level” action after President Trump’s provocative speech at the U.N.
  • After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, states are grappling with millions of tons of garbage that will cost billions to haul away.
  • A Pennsylvania Democrat drew outrage for telling a town hall audience he thinks cancer-stricken Sen. John McCain won’t back the Graham-Cassidy health care bill because he’s “staring death in the face.”
  • Democrats believe military veterans are one of the keys to victory in the 2018 midterms — and are on a mission to draw them away from the GOP.
  • Fox News’ Shannon Bream will host a new nightly primetime show, “Fox News @ Night,” starting Oct. 30.

Let’s take a closer look at these stories …

THE LEAD STORY: Kim Jong Un may order hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific  … Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s comments in South Korea media followed Kim’s assertion that President Trump was “deranged” and would “pay dearly” for his threat to destroy the Hermit Kingdom. Previously at the U.N. General Assembly, Trump mocked Kim as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission,” and said that if provoked further, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order targeting North Korea’s trading partners with sanctions, calling it a “powerful” tool for isolating and de-nuclearizing the regime.

TONS OF COSTLY TRASH FROM HARVEY AND IRMA: Three weeks after Harvey made landfall, Texans now have another mountainous problem on their hands: millions of tons of garbage … According to estimates, nearly a half-billion dollars will be spent hauling the trash to landfills. Florida and other Gulf states also are tasked with cleaning up – and could face more destruction as storms continue building in the Atlantic.

NO DECENCY FROM DEMS IN HEALTH CARE BATTLE: A Pennsylvania Democrat said at a town hall event that he believes Sen. John McCain, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in July, will defy his fellow Republicans and side with Dems against the Graham-Cassidy health care bill because of his illness …  “McCain – I’m worried about,” Rep. Matt Cartwright said. “Something tells me, McCain – he’s staring death in the face right now – so he’s probably going to make good choices and he’s not going to bend to political pressure.” McCain’s daughter Meghan blasted Cartwright’s comments as “disgusting and macabre.”

DEMS TARGET MILITARY VETS FOR 2018: Democrats are on a wide-ranging mission to wrest the veterans vote from Republicans – courting them with the promise of better jobs and running dozens of returning servicemembers for office in the 2018 midterms … Democrats’ efforts reflect the party’s determination to retake control of at least one chamber of Congress next year. While Republicans’ ideals of a powerful military and a boot-strap work ethic have long appealed to active and retired military vets, Democrats think they can make inroads. Donald Trump won 60 percent of the veteran vote last fall, exit polls showed.

FOX NEWS ADDS ONE MORE SHOW TO PRIMETIME:  Shannon Bream joins Fox’s primetime lineup with a live newscast at 11 p.m. ET starting Oct. 30, the same evening that Laura Ingraham’s new show kicks off” Fox News @ Night” will be a live hour of hard news and analysis, as part of the network’s revamped lineup. 

There’s so much more you should know as you start the day … so, let’s do this.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Heard on Fox: “When we say we are at war, we are talking about a cyber war.” – Director Rob Reiner, on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” attempting to clarify what his group, “Committee to Investigate Russia,” meant when it said the U.S. was at “war” with Russia. Click here to watch

ICYMI (And didn’t set your DVR) …

Special Report: Spokesman for Samantha Power pushes back on “unmasking” allegations

The Story with Martha MacCallum: Sen. Cassidy: I wish Jimmy Kimmel would hear my perspective on health care

HannityMueller war path shows two-tiered system of justice

MINDING YOUR BUSINESS

Apple’s iPhone 8 sees muted launch in Asia

Hewlett Packard Enterprise to cut about 5,000 jobs

CarMax to report 2Q earnings with Texas, Florida car sales in focus

Billionaire L’Oreal heiress Bettencourt dies at 94

FOX TROT ACROSS THE NATION

Murderer sues Kansas prison for “imposing Christian beliefs”

Prosecutors describe Holly Bobo’s final hours in murder trial’s closing arguments

First female Marine in history to graduate infantry training course

Animal abusers could be made to register like sex offenders

NEW IN FOX NEWS OPINION

Tomi Lahren’s “Final Thoughts”: Selective feminists cyberbully Melania Trump over pink dress

Judge Andrew Napolitano: Trump’s frightening and tightening legal noose
Super-rich ex-presidents and the taxpayers who support them

Amazon, Facebook and Google: Are they history’s greatest robber barons?

HOLLYWOOD SQUARED

Kimmel calls Louisiana senator “inbred” during latest health care monologue

ABC greenlights sitcom about undocumented family living in US

Shia LaBeouf claims fight with “racist” bartender was protected free speech

OBJECTified preview: Hulk Hogan opens up on Gawker lawsuit

Jay-Z passes on Super Bowl LII halftime show in support of Colin Kaepernick

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS?

Church of Latter Day Saints acquires Book of Mormon manuscript for $35M

Couple caught have sex at Domino’s could face jail for “obscene and disgusting acts”

7-year-old fitted with 3-D printed hand to throw first pitch at World Series

111-year-old woman credits whiskey for her longevity

DON’T MISS THIS TODAY

On Fox News:

Fox & Friends, 6 a.m. ET: Guests include: political commentator Erick Erickson, who’ll offer his take on fallout from President Trump’s U.N. address.

Shepard Smith Reporting, 3 p.m. ET: Shep will interview USAF Commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, who is leading the war to defeat ISIS. 

Fox News Prime-time: We’ll have live coverage of President Trump’s participation in a campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., starting with The Story with Martha MacCallum, starting at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Tucker Carlson Tonight at 8 p.m. ET

On Fox Business:

Mornings with Maria, 6 a.m. ET: Guests include White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, who will make the case for Graham-Cassidy health care bill. Plus, Maria will get insight from Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund.

Varney & Company, 9 a.m. ET: Guests include Sen. Luther Strange, who will discuss his heated battle with former Ala. State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat and President Trump’s support of his campaign.

#OnThisDay

1982: Family Ties premieres on NBC.

1975: Sara Jane Moore attempts to shoot President Gerald R. Ford outside a San Francisco hotel, but misses.

1949: Soviet Union detonates its first atomic bomb.

1927: Gene Tunney defends his heavyweight boxing title against Jack Dempsey in the famous “long-count” fight in Chicago.

Thank you for joining us on Fox News First! Enjoy your weekend and see you in your inbox first thing Monday morning!

UK leader to try to break Brexit logjam in Italy speech

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British Prime Minister Theresa May will try to revive foundering Brexit talks, proposing a two-year transition after Britain’s formal departure from the European Union in 2019 to ensure there are no problems during the changeover.

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May’s office released extracts from a speech she will deliver Friday in Florence, Italy, stressing that both sides share “a profound sense of responsibility” to ensure their parting goes “smoothly and sensibly.”

The speech comes before the fourth round of talks, which have stalled on issues such as the amount Britain must pay to settle its financial commitments to the bloc and the status of EU citizens in the U.K.

While the EU says negotiations can’t move forward until these issues are resolved, Britain wants to begin discussing future links, including trade and security cooperation.

Oil prices narrowly higher as producers meet on output pact

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Oil prices were narrowly higher on Friday as the market waited to see whether major oil producers would back an extension to output cuts beyond March at a meeting in Vienna.

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Brent crude futures were at $56.51 a barrel at 0725 GMT, up 6 cents, or 0.11 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 10 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $50.65 per barrel.

Some ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and from other producers are set to meet in Vienna at 0900 GMT on Friday to discuss a possible extension of an oil supply cut deal that is aimed at supporting oil prices.

An OPEC source told Reuters the meeting had been postponed from 0800 GMT.

The ministers from OPEC nations and others led by Russia will discuss a possible extension to an agreement under which producers are cutting output by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd). They are also expected to discuss the idea of monitoring exports to assess compliance.

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Goldman Sachs said that talks over extending cuts are “noteworthy but premature”, adding “we believe it is unlikely that the committee will recommend extension of cuts this week.”

Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, predicted there will be “strong rhetoric but whether or not they will be able to boost oil prices from current high levels is another question”.

There will be some focus on whether Nigeria and Libya, who have been exempt from the output cuts, will join any future efforts. The two OPEC members have both been invited to Friday’s meeting.

“The market is still split as to whether the meeting will bring fresh supply cuts to the table,” ANZ bank said in a note.

“With U.S. stockpiles remaining elevated, a firm signal about lower supply is likely needed for price momentum to remain positive.”

Despite the output restraint of OPEC and some non-OPEC producers, and their agreement to extend their cuts to March 2018, increasing U.S. oil production has curbed crude price gains.

Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico have also pushed up crude inventories as some U.S. refineries have been shut by flooding.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday reported that U.S. crude production rose to 9.51 million bpd in the week ended Sept.15 from 8.78 million bpd a week earlier. [C-OUT-T-EIA]

(Reporting by Fanny Potkin in London and Jane Chung in Seoul; eEditing by Christian Schmollinger and Jason Neely)

OPEC panel to discuss export monitoring, oil pact extension

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A meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC nations on Friday to review their oil supply cut deal will discuss monitoring exports to assess compliance and will consider extending the pact beyond March.

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus Russia and other non-OPEC producers aims to clear a global oil supply glut by curbing output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd). The pact runs to the end of March.

Ministers on a panel monitoring the deal, which comprises Kuwait, Venezuela and Algeria, plus non-OPEC Russia and Oman, are scheduled to meet at 0900 GMT. The meeting was likely to be brief, two OPEC delegates said.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on Friday that Moscow was not against tracking oil exports to assess producers’ compliance with the deal.

“We are discussing (oil exports monitoring) but there are difficulties from the point of view of data accuracy,” Novak said. “On the whole we are not against it as an additional factor, the main factor is production.”

Ministers will also discuss a possible extension of the deal beyond its expiry at the end of March.

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Oil prices have gained more than 15 percent in the past three months to trade above $56 a barrel, suggesting the deal is making progress in getting rid of excess supply. But oil is still half the level it was in mid-2014.

Friday’s meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, chaired by Kuwait, could make a recommendation on policy to the wider group, which next meets in November

The Omani minister is not expected to attend, but Nigeria’s oil minister and the head of Libya’s state oil company, whose countries are exempt from the supply cuts, are attending.

(Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar, Alex Lawler and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity after Maria

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They eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm’s devastation.

Two days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions on the island faced the dispiriting prospect of weeks and perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million, leaving many without power.

The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

“You cannot live here without power,” said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to leave Saturday for the U.S. mainland to live there temporarily.

Like many Puerto Ricans, Llanos does not have a generator or gas stove. “The only thing I have is a flashlight,” he said, shaking his head. “This is never going to return to normal.”

Maria’s death toll across the Caribbean, meanwhile, climbed to at least 19, nearly all of them on the hard-hit island of Dominica. In Puerto Rico, the government said at least two were killed but media on the island were reporting additional deaths and the actual toll appeared unlikely to be known for days.

As of Friday morning, Maria was moving toward the Turks and Caicos with winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The storm was expected to move near or just east of the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday. From there, it is expected to veer into the open Atlantic, no threat to the U.S. mainland.

In Puerto Rico, the grid was in sorry shape long before Maria — and Hurricane Irma two weeks ago — struck.

The territory’s $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

“We knew this was going to happen given the vulnerable infrastructure,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said. “This is an event without precedent.”

He said his administration was trying to open ports soon to receive shipments of food, water, generators, cots and other supplies.

The government has hired 56 small contractors to clear trees and put up new power lines and poles and will be sending tanker trucks to supply neighborhoods as they run out of water. The entire island has been declared a federal disaster zone.

Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, a utility industry group that is sending repair crews into the Caribbean, refused to speculate on how long it would take to restore power in Puerto Rico.

“Let’s see what the facts tell us by the end of the weekend,” he said. But he acknowledged: “This is going to be a tall lift.”

Maribel Montilla already had two large barrels filled with water but worried about how long it would last for her, her daughter, her son-in-law and six grandchildren.

“You know what I think? We’re going to be without power for six months now,” she said.

Cellphone and internet service collapsed in much of Puerto Rico. The only radio station that remained on the air during the hurricane — WAPA 680 AM — was relaying messages to help connect friends and families.

Other concerns were more prosaic. Across the street, someone yelled at a neighbor, “Listen, do you have Netflix?!”

Jaime Rullan, a sports commentator, has a gas stove at home but tried not to think about the lack of air conditioning on an island where the heat index has surpassed 100 degrees (37 Celsius) in recent days.

“We’re used to the lights going out because of storms here in Puerto Rico, but this time, we’re worried,” he said. “We should prepare ourselves mentally to be at least a month without power.”

Deysi Rodriguez, a 46-year-old caretaker for elderly people, does not have a gas stove. And unlike others who have been lining up at the few fast-food restaurants that have reopened, Rodriguez is a diabetic and has to be more careful about what she eats.

Rodriguez said she might temporarily move to New Jersey if the situation gets worse.

Pedro Cartagena, a 57-year-old dock supervisor, said he planned to shower, eat and sleep at his company’s office. He plans to buy food at the few restaurants that are open and operating on generators.

“That’s going to drain my bank account,” he said, “but if I want to eat, that’s my only option.”

In an upscale neighborhood in San Juan, 69-year-old retiree Annie Mattei’s condominium has a generator. But she said maintenance will shut it off between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to save fuel.

“This has been devastating,” she said as her eyes welled with tears.

In the Dominican Republican, Maria knocked down trees and power lines. But Joel Santos, president of the country’s hotel association, said the hurricane did not damage the tourism infrastructure, even though it passed close to Punta Cana, the major resort area on the eastern tip of the island.

In Dominica, where Maria laid waste to hundreds of homes and was blamed for at least 15 deaths, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wept as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua.

“It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths,” he said. He added: “Dominica is going to need all the help the world has to offer.”

Trump should not certify Iran’s nuclear compliance and here’s how he can do it

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President Trump just extended sanctions relief on Iran, but this does not mean he will certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) next month. He won’t, because doing so would mean lying to Congress.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), also known as Corker-Cardin, requires the president to certify that Iran is in compliance with JCPOA every 90 days. Trump has done that twice since he took office, but it was against his better instincts. He was very unhappy with his leadership for not giving him proper ammunition to do the right thing.

But that won’t happen this time. There is plenty of proof that Iran is not complying, and the president has told his Cabinet leaders in no uncertain terms to bring him reasons for not certifying. The problem he has run into in the past has been the intelligence community’s assessment that Iran is technically in compliance, that they have no certain evidence of a material breach of the JCPOA.

But Iran is in violation of a related agreement, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, through ballistic missile testing and export of weapons to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. These violations are so flagrant even Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador, felt obligated to point them out.

But the reason they can claim no certain evidence of violations is that the Obama administration gave away any right to conduct meaningful inspections in Iran. No one can get anywhere near the military sites where Iran does its dirty work. Also, in their naïve zeal to make a deal at any cost, President Obama’s negotiators took ballistic missile programs out of the agreement. A nuclear weapon needs a delivery system to be fully functional. Removing the missile program from the deal allowed Iran to keep working on half of its program and remain in technical compliance with the JCPOA.

But Iran is in violation of a related agreement, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, through ballistic missile testing and export of weapons to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. These violations are so flagrant even Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador, felt obligated to point them out. That is the opening Trump can use to announce that he can’t certify compliance with the deal. The INARA contains a provision (Page 129 STAT. 207) that says the president must certify that “Iran is transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement, including all related technical or additional agreements.”

A UN Security Council resolution, directly applicable to the Iran nuclear program and negotiated by the Obama administration in conjunction with the JCPOA, absolutely counts as a related or additional agreement. The comical thing is that Obama loyalists are claiming it does not. When they submitted the JCPOA and all related agreements to Congress, as required by INARA, which President Obama signed, they included UNSCR 2231 as: (Other) not a related agreement.

Seriously, that’s their excuse for why it should not be considered. That’s like saying the money they sent to Iran on an unmarked plane in the middle of the night wasn’t bribes and ransom because the pallets of cash were stenciled “humanitarian aid.” Well, maybe that’s not the best example, since they actually did claim that.

Trump has every right, even an obligation, to identify UNSCR 2231 as a related agreement, and to tell Congress that he cannot certify compliance because Iran’s missile tests and weapons movements via commercial airlines are serial violations. This would set in motion numerous options for reapplying sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. It should also prompt all elements of the U.S. government to fix, renegotiate or, ideally, eliminate the deal, and to take action to actually stop Iran’s nuclear program.

The Iran deal was one of the worst negotiations in U.S. history. We gave away everything and gained almost nothing. Iran has moved forward with malign activity in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and, worst of all, its burgeoning nuclear and ballistic missile partnership with North Korea. By taking the first steps toward replacing this deal with actions that will keep us all safe, President Trump will be doing his sworn duty.

All elements of U.S. power should be brought to bear, including a credible threat of military action if Iran doesn’t allow inspections at its military sites. We should also let the Iranian people know that we do not hold them responsible for the actions of the mullahs who oppress them and endanger the world. A new government for Iran would be in everyone’s interest.

That or military action is the only thing that will stop Iran from finishing its plans to become a nuclear power. Expect President Trump to move us forward in that regard.

Jim Hanson is President of Security Studies Group and served in US Army Special Forces.

How much does our health care cost? Americans have the right to know

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Even as uncertainty about the health insurance market continues, one thing is certain: more Americans are paying higher out-of-pocket amounts for their health care. One bellwether of this trend is the percentage of Americans with high-deductible health plans, which require consumers to pay a higher deductible than traditional plans, often in exchange for lower premiums. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of adults aged 18 to 64 with employment-based coverage who were enrolled in a high-deductible health plan rose nearly 50 percent in five years, from 26.3 percent in 2011 to 39.3 percent in 2016. Such consumers may have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for health care expenses before their health insurance will begin to pay benefits.

Even consumers who are not in high-deductible health plans are likely to have seen their share of health care costs rising in recent years, and an increasing number are in plans with narrow networks that may give rise to more people going out of network for health care and, thus, paying higher costs. Now more than ever, as such out-of-pocket costs increase, consumers need reliable information to be able to plan for their health care expenses.

Although there are a number of online price transparency tools, some have been skeptical of their utility, perhaps, in part, due to a 2016 study, published in JAMA, that was limited to two large employers who offered such a tool and found that it was used by only a small percentage of employees and did not result in lower health care spending. But, with consumers’ health care costs rising, and with cost transparency still in its infancy, this is not the time to abandon such tools. Instead, it is time to make them better and more accessible. They need a firm foundation in reliable, robust, objective, geographically specific data; they need to be clear and user-friendly; they need to deliver actionable information and provide the key elements that advance decision making; and they need to present costs in an educational context that will allow consumers to understand their health insurance and become effective advocates on behalf of themselves.

Robust, private insurance claims data from an independent, nonprofit source can provide the necessary foundation for cost transparency. By pooling information contributed from payors and third-party administrators, such a source can ascertain prevailing prices for thousands of medical and dental procedures within specific geographic areas. Through an innovative and inviting website, consumers can find out how much knee arthroscopy or cataract removal typically costs in their locality before they get the procedure. More specifically, they can learn how much the procedure typically costs in network—through an estimate of the price that insurers negotiate with the providers in their networks—and how much the procedure generally costs out of network, through an estimate of what out-of-network providers charge patients.

That information can help consumers budget for the health care they may need to receive in network before they meet their deductible—and, it can help them plan for their out-of-network services and negotiate with out-of-network providers. For example, if the data show that most providers in their location charge a certain amount for a procedure, patients can present the data to initiate a constructive discussion with the provider about costs if that provider’s pricing differs from those market norms.

A single condition, such as diabetes, or a single planned procedure, such as a hip replacement, often involves multiple procedures, which can be grouped into bundles or episodes of care. The same claims data that can be used to estimate costs for individual procedures also can be used to estimate costs for common episodes, allowing consumers to view both total and itemized costs for each episode.

Consumers may be interested in comparing information about local providers and their prices for frequently performed procedures, and information about local hospital prices for common outpatient procedures. Such information also can be made available through the use of claims data.

As important as cost estimates are, they are much more helpful in the context of a rich educational curriculum that gives consumers information about health insurance, health care quality measures and resources that can assist them further. For consumers who may not realize they are in a high-deductible health plan or a plan with a narrow network, or who are trying to decide whether to enroll in an HMO or a PPO, education in the basics of insurance can be vital.

Now more than ever, consumers need help in planning for their health care and navigating their insurance plans. Cost transparency helps propel consumers on that journey and allows them to navigate with confidence and clarity. 

Robin Gelburd is the President of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit, with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance reimbursement. FAIR Health maintains a national database of billions of healthcare claims; the data populates products and custom analytics for health plans, government, providers, unions, employers and researchers. FAIR Health also uses its database to power a website that enables consumers to estimate their health care expenditures. Follow FAIRHealth on Twitter @FAIRHealth.

The doctor told my wife she had six weeks to live — two years ago

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I will never forget the look on the doctor’s face, her expression gave it all away.

It was her eyes, though, that truly terrified me. You could see the unrelenting, unshakable, unmovable fear they held.

In all fairness, nothing about fear should shock us. We’ve all been fearful at some point in our own lives.

But this was different.

This was a terrifying mix for when anger, shock and absolute horror all roll into one perilous package. It was as if you were about to tell someone they were going to…and then I knew what was about to happen.

And there is no preparation for it. None.

The doctor looked at me, looked at her patient, my wife Jennifer, and then looked down at the paperwork she had in front of her that contained Jen’s test results. She repeated this over and over, as if she didn’t believe what her eyes were telling her.

When she finally stopped, the words for her were hard to find. But when she did speak, our world would be transformed forever.

The prognosis came in two parts. First, Jennifer’s thyroid had stopped working—certainly not good but something that happens to many people and was treatable. However, the second part was devastating: her kidneys were near total failure and her body was shutting down. If emergency measures weren’t enacted—and soon—she would be dead within six weeks.

Six weeks.

No one said anything at first. Then, after maybe ten seconds, we all looked at each other—no one really had a reaction. It felt like, for a moment, in that doctor’s office, time stopped.

For me, when I heard the news my reaction was paused for a simple reason: I wanted to cry, scream and yell—all at the same time.

I instantly blamed myself. I knew I should have pushed Jen to go to the doctor sooner. I should have been persistent, I should have seen the signs for what they were. But we kept making excuses for what was happening for months, and now we were paying the price—perhaps the ultimate price.

You see, starting in January 2015, Jennifer, the love of my life, my best friend—my everything—saw her health slowly start to slip away.

At first, we dismissed her symptoms as the result of her efforts to lose weight through diet and exercise. But as her health became gradually worse—her energy level deteriorated, she felt aches and pains throughout her body and felt awful all the time—we started to worry.    

By the time the summer rolled around, things had gotten much worse. Jennifer was now losing weight dramatically. By July, she had lost almost seventy pounds in seven months. When we would go to the grocery store, separating into different aisles, there would be times I couldn’t find her as she looked like a completely different person.

Even at this point we dismissed the symptoms—now blaming Jennifer’s stressful job as a travelling psychologist, treating adolescent patients in some of the most poverty stricken and crime ridden neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.—as the culprit. It would take me comparing pictures of her from then to a few years prior to understand she needed medical treatment—or I might lose her.

When we walked out of the doctor’s office and went out onto the street we both grabbed for each other. Our heads nearly collided, each of us sobbing, shaking and crying uncontrollably, a reaction that words could never do justice to.

We both said at the same time: “What are we going to do?”

Once the shock washed away she did the only thing she could do, the only thing left to do: fight for her life.

And let there be no doubt, this was a battle that would test Jennifer’s will to live, test the strength of our marriage and make us rethink everything that was important to us.

Forever.

But just like every battle, there are some constants that aren’t changeable.

Ask anyone who has fought kidney disease and they will tell you a hard truth: you don’t ever beat it. You can become stable, even achieve some sort of remission from its unrelenting advance, but once your kidneys start to have problems they don’t ever heal themselves, they never return to their ‘normal’ state. So, the best result we could hope for in the war for Jennifer’s life was a draw, that no matter how hard she battled, no matter how much I supported her, no matter what sacrifice she was willing to make, all we could hope for is that it would not get any worse.

With this knowledge in hand, Jennifer’s struggle would begin.

The first order of battle began with constant visits to George Washington Hospital here in Washington, D.C. for battery after battery of tests. The constant blood work, doctor’s appointments and follow-up checkups were exhausting.

But none of that would compare to a kidney biopsy.

In what should be the latest Lannister torture method from “Game of Thrones,” Jennifer laid down on her stomach with her hands extended, holding onto what can only be described as grips. She was then given a small amount of numbing medication. After about a minute the doctor used a small device to remove a small 1cm piece of her kidney—while she was awake. When she came back to her hospital room she cried for hours as the pain was so intense.

Jennifer’s struggle, though, was just beginning.

Her kidney functioning levels were dropping fast and the amount of poison in her blood was increasing. If this could not be stopped, she would soon need dialysis or a kidney transplant. Her doctors recommended she be placed on steroids that could, emphasis on could, help stabilize her and maybe allow her kidneys to function slightly better. But there was a big downside to this treatment. Not only would Jennifer gain weight dramatically, but she would become temporarily—but horribly—disfigured as her whole body would swell uncontrollably.

She asked what other options she had. The doctor responded quite simply: “None.”

And with that, Jennifer’s descent into hell began.

If there was a dark time in this whole ordeal—or darker than any other—this was it. Jennifer was placed on the highest possible steroid dosage a person can take. From January 2016 to May of that year, Jen would be able to do very little as her arms and legs would begin to swell nonstop. When she did go outside, if she even had the energy to do so, people would shun her, as her face swelled to the point where she could no longer smile or make normal facial expressions. If she went to buy shoes, since all her pre-kidney disease shoes no longer fit, no one would wait on her. People would go to the other side of the street when they saw her, giving her dirty looks, time and time again.

Eventually, she stopped going outside—the physical and now emotional pain was too much to bear. The only thing that brought her joy was sitting by the window in our apartment, to feel a little bit a part of the outside world, looking down from six floors up as people walked to work or went about their lives. She would ask me constantly: “Am I going to die?” or “Is this my fate? To slowly rot away, just watching the world pass me by?” 

Compounding all of this was the havoc this caused on her personally and professionally. She was fired from her job—they simply could not hold her position any longer after being out of the office for months. That meant she now had no health insurance—what could have been a death sentence, as the costs of treatment could easily bankrupt someone if they could not afford a private insurance plan that covered kidney disease. Thankfully my employer was able to add her to my plan quickly.

There was also the challenge of having to apply for Social Security Disability—a process so painful, so soul draining, so time consuming that it is hard for me to fathom how anyone can successfully navigate the process, especially if you’re sick. Despite countless forms that needed to be filled out repeatedly—with Jennifer’s hands so swollen at times it proved nearly impossible—hours and hours on the phone with lawyers and being sent for medical evaluations for the wrong things, Jennifer fought hard to get the assistance she needed. To this day, after one year of waiting and two denials in what should be a cut and dry case, Jennifer will now have to fight the federal government in court for the help she deserves. If we were not married and Jen needed Social Security and Medicare for survival she would already be dead.

Watching Jennifer go through all of this, knowing I could do almost nothing to help, took its toll on me as well.

This is where I started to break—and where our marriage was tested. How does one emotionally make peace with the fact that they are potentially watching their wife die?

At first, I became very quiet, withdrawn from the world. I then became very angry, feeling like we were robbed of the life we planned. Jennifer and I started to fight about anything—everything—as we did not know how to interact anymore. We did not know how to live in a world where she might not be part of it for much longer. And that scared me to my core.

Thankfully, our marriage would hold through this tough time—and get even stronger. We sat down one day and faced our fears together. Through hours of tough talk, laughter, heartache and sobbing, we admitted our greatest fear: not wanting to lose each other. We made a deal, right then and there: that no matter what, we would not take out our fears out on one another. That we would fight this no matter what, hand and hand, side by side, to the end—no matter where that brought us.

And then a small miracle happened. We made the decision to move out of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. to the quiet suburbs of Rockville, 20 miles north. There, Jennifer and I spent the summer of 2016 laughing, swimming and learning to live with our fears—and we made a sort of peace with them. Once we let go of worrying about what we could not control, Jennifer starting getting some good news: the amount of poisons in her blood started to decrease. Month after month the functioning of her kidneys were improving ever-so-slightly. Her energy started to improve and her appearance started to return to normal, as the doctor started weaning her off the steroids.

Today, Jennifer is a as close to ‘normal’ as she will likely ever be. We know her battle with kidney disease will be one she wages for the rest of her days, but she has begun to reclaim the life she knew, piece by piece. She won’t ever be able to work again, as the daily stresses of any sort of employment could push her kidneys back toward failure. Her energy level can change hour by hour, many days she simply can’t leave the house.

But most importantly and positively, her spirit held strong and never broke. We moved back to Washington, D.C. in July, as she felt she needed to be close to the nation’s capital. She is back to being the happy, uplifting and inspirational person I love more than anything—someone who helped me in my darkest hours. In some small part, I was able to do the same for her.

We know the road in this struggle will be long and challenging, with many ups and downs along the way, but I know we can face it together, whatever comes. And for that, we are most grateful.  

As Germany heads to the polls, a growing split between European voters and elites

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This month’s national elections in Germany are unlikely to produce a surprise upset, but that doesn’t mean we should regard politics in Europe as business as usual. Across the Atlantic, it’s becoming clear the movements that led to Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump are not one-offs.

For the first time since World War II, Germany’s center-right parties face a serious challenge from the right. Most polls of voting intention predict the Christian Democrats led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, to continue to lead in a majority federal government once the results are in. But astute political minds will watch to see how closely the final tally mirrors changing perceptions across the West. A high-authority poll conducted in every EU member state finds that in Germany and across Europe there is a widening gap between how public and elites view inequality, globalization, migration, and terrorism. Most notably, the survey findings are consistent with last year, showing just how deep seated public opinion is on significant policy matters.

On the economy, every other European believes that future generations will have lower standards of living than we have today. Only 48 percent of Europeans believe that the rise of the global economy is good for their country. In France, 64 percent of respondents believe inequality is a very serious problem and in Germany 66 percent believe that things are going either somewhat or strongly in the wrong direction.  

Half of Europeans agreed that immigration was a serious problem for Europe and 53 percent claimed migrants were coming to Europe solely for economic reasons. In Germany, 84 percent believe that illegal immigration is a serious problem and 54 percent who identify as being on the ‘left’ agree that the EU should protect its outer borders more effectively. Across the entire EU, an overwhelming 79 percent also agree with the statement that the EU ‘should protect its outer European borders more effectively.’ There is not much disagreement between traditional political sides on this matter.

There are very large variations between member states in terms of trust in government institutions, but half of the European population does not trust their own government. The difference of opinion among newer member states is especially stark as they tend to be more optimistic about their own future, want less centralized power in Brussels, and more border protections. What’s more, 51 percent of all of Europe favors individual member states having more power. Even 24 percent of Germans would vote to leave the EU.

Although these findings illustrate public opinions across Europe, the insights implicate the entire world. As the difference in opinion between the public and elites grows, so does dissatisfaction with the status quo. In the meantime, politicians are wise to address the public perceptions that have divided Europe. If traditional political parties are unwilling to meet the needs of the electorate, anti-establishment movements will grow even stronger. Rather than Brexit and Trump being the anomaly, a better question might be why elites are being re-elected despite not sharing the opinions of the citizenry they represent.

David Szabo is Director of Foreign Affairs for the Szadadveg Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Hungary.

New Orleans woman gets 6 years for Medicare fraud, must repay millions

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A New Orleans businesswoman convicted in a massive Medicare fraud scheme was sentenced Thursday to more than six years in prison and was ordered to pay back more than $16 million.

Lisa Crinel, 52, a former queen of the Zulu parade in the Big Easy, ran a company called Abide Home Care Services. The company also was ordered to repay more than $16 million, making the total repayment more than $32 million.

Crinel, a former queen of the Zulu parade in New Orleans, had pleaded guilty in October 2015 to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks.

Prosecutors said Crinel instructed Abide not to discharge patients, even when they did not require home health services, and directed the company to routinely file false diagnoses and medical records to inflate Medicare reimbursements.

The scam started in 2008 and ran for eight years, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. Numerous medical professionals were involved, including four doctors and Sheila Mathieu, a nurse who is the mother of an NFL football player, the newspaper reported.

Besides Crinel and the company, 19 other defendants were charged in connection with the case.

In August, Mathieu was sentenced to one year of probation for aiding and abetting the scheme, and was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and $875 in restitution. Two other nurses also were sentenced for their roles.

The doctors were identified as Shelton Barnes, Henry Evans, Gregory Molden and Michael Jones. They were awaiting sentencing, the Times-Picayune reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.