Monday, March 19, 2018

Zinke defends 'konnichiwa' comment to Japanese-American lawmaker


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended his use of the Japanese greeting “konnichiwa” when responding to a question from a lawmaker.

Zinke told reporters Saturday that the phrase is innocent and inoffensive.

“How could ever saying ‘good morning’ be bad?” he said during his tour of the U.S.-Mexico Border in Arizona.

Zinke took heat last week after he said “konnichiwa” to a Japanese American congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, who quizzed him over funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites program.

“Will we see it funded again in 2018?,” Rep. Hanabusa, asked Zinke last week. “Oh, Konnichiwa,” Zinke replied, sparking uproar among some lawmakers, civic groups and on social media who perceived the use of the phrase as perpetuating negative stereotypes about Japanese Americans.

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” Hanabusa corrected Zinke with a greeting normally used in them morning.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., called on Zinke to apologize for the remark: “Zinke’s comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner. Intentional or not, it’s offensive. He should apologize.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also criticized the interior secretary.

“The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke. What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile,” Hirono tweeted.

“How could ever saying ‘good morning’ be bad?”

– Interior Secretary Zinke

Hanabusa issued a statement on Saturday, saying “the real issue here is that the administration ignored one of the most racially motivated periods in American history by defunding the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program.”

“When Secretary Zinke chose to address me in Japanese (when no one else was greeted in their ancestral language), I understood ‘this is precisely why Japanese Americans were treated as they were more than 75 years ago,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Another explosion injures 2 in Texas capital; cause unclear


Two people were injured in another explosion in Texas’ capital, and police weren’t saying if it was caused by a package bomb like the three that detonated earlier this month elsewhere in the city.

The latest blast occurred around 8:30 p.m. Sunday in a suburban neighborhood known as Travis Country in southwest Austin — far from the previous three that were all in residential areas in the eastern part of the city — and investigators didn’t immediately confirm what caused it. But police Chief Brian Manley repeated previously issued warnings for residents not to touch any unexpected packages left at their homes.

“What we have right now is a scene where it is obvious that an explosion has taken place,” Manley said at a hastily organized news conference near the site of the latest blast.

He urged people within half a mile to stay in their homes and said authorities would keep the surrounding area blocked off at least until daybreak Monday “given the darkness and size of the area that we want to go in and check.”

“We want to put out the message that we’ve been putting out and that is, not only do not touch any packages or anything that looks like a package, do not even go near it at this time,” Manley said. Because “we have not had an opportunity to look at this blast site to really determine what has happened.”

Manley also said authorities were still working to “clear” a suspicious backpack found in the area that was part of a separate report.

“It is important right now for anyone in the neighborhood behind us to remain inside and give us time to work through this,” he said, adding that any witnesses should call 911 and report what they saw.

Two men in their 20s were hurt in the latest blast. Police said they were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening. It was the fourth explosion to rock Austin in less than three weeks.

The first was a package bomb that exploded at a northeast Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two more package bombs then exploded farther south on March 12, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman.

Police said all three of those were likely related and involved packages that had not been mailed or delivered by private carrier but left overnight on doorsteps. Manley originally suggested they could have been hate crimes since all the victims were black or Hispanic, but now says that investigators aren’t ruling out any possible motive.

Manley last week urged residents receiving unexpected packages to call authorities without touching or opening them, and police responded to hundreds of calls about suspicious packages but didn’t find anything dangerous.

On Sunday, police blocked entrances to the neighborhood where the latest blast occurred and put up yellow tape about half a mile from the home where it happened.

Despite the order for those living nearby to stay in their homes, neighbors milled around just outside the tape. Some reported hearing loud booms but couldn’t provide many details. FBI agents arrived to conduct interviews.

The latest explosion came hours after authorities raised the reward by $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the first three explosions. It now totals $115,000.

Sunday is the final day of the South By Southwest music festival, which draws hundreds of thousands to Austin every March. It is also the end of spring break for many area school districts, meaning families who were out of town in recent days are returning to a city increasingly on edge.

The explosions occurred far from the main South By Southwest activities, though a downtown concert by hip-hop band The Roots was canceled Saturday night after a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a 26-year-old man, and the incident did not appear to be related to any previous explosions.

Democratic New York lawmaker to introduce bill to protect pets flying on airplanes


A Democratic New York state lawmaker said Sunday she planned to introduce a bill that would give pet passengers the same rights as humans when flying on airplanes.

Sen. Marisol Alcantara’s bill comes in wake of the uproar caused when a French bulldog named Kokito died after it was forced into an overhead bin by a United Airlines flight attendant last week.

“Make no bones about it, United is in the doghouse,” Alcantara, D-Manhattan, said outside LaGuardia Airport as she was joined by the family of the puppy.

alcantara and dog

New York state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, D-Manhattan, poses with a dog.  (Instagram)

Alcantara’s bill, named Kokito’s Law, would bar pets from being placed into overhead storage on airplanes, give pet passengers the same rights as humans, force cargo holds to be pressurized and ventilated and hold airlines to other safety standards, according to the New York Post.

The 10-month-old dog was killed during a United flight from Houston to New York after a flight attendant put the dog’s carrier into an overhead bin. The family insisted that they told the attendant there was a dog in the bag.

The family said they heard the dog bark and whimper during the flight, but were prevented from getting up to check on the dog.

rally goers laguardia

Rally goers support Alcantara as she introduces a bill to protect passenger pets on flights.  (Instagram)

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them,” United Airlines spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin told Fox News in a statement. “We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The District Attorney’s Office in Queens sad it was investigating the dog’s death, according to the New York Post.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

What to expect from Putin and a resurgent Russia


Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president.

His domestic opponents are largely resigned to another six years in the shadows. His foreign opponents are mired in their own problems, from Britain’s messy exit from the European Union to chaos and contradiction in the Trump administration.

Even widespread voting violations are unlikely to dent Putin’s armor. And accusations that he meddled in the U.S. election and sponsored a nerve agent attack in Britain have only bolstered his standing at home.

Here’s a look at what to expect from Putin’s next six years in power, for Russia’s rivals, neighbors and its own 147 million citizens.



Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.

Despite a friendly-ish relationship with President Donald Trump, Putin’s new mandate gives him little incentive to seek entente with Washington, especially as the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies.

Putin-friendly leaders have made gains in recent Italian and German elections. Western countries are likely to see more Russia-linked hacking and propaganda aimed at disrupting elections or otherwise discrediting democracy — including the U.S. midterm elections in November.

Since Putin’s domestic popularity bumps whenever he stands up to the West, expect more tough talk from Putin the next time he faces threats at home, and bolder Russian vetoes at the U.N. Security Council of anything seen as threatening Moscow’s interests.

His claim several weeks ago that Russia has developed new nuclear weapons that can evade missile defenses clearly showed Putin’s adamant determination to boost Russia’s power to intimidate.



Russian-backed Syrian forces helped rout the Islamic State group from Syria, and Putin argues that Russia saved the day in a conflict that had confounded U.S.-led forces fighting against IS.

Now those Russian-backed Syrian forces are closing in on the last strongholds of Western-backed rebel forces.

Viewing that as a geopolitical and military victory over an illegal Western-led intervention, Russia is unlikely to pull out of Syria anytime soon.

An emboldened Putin could position the resurgent Russian military as a peacemaker in other regional conflicts — for example in Libya, where Russia has oil interests and where a disastrous Western invasion seven years ago left a lawless state now seething with extremists.



To Russians, Putin’s biggest victory in 18 years in power was annexing Crimea and crushing Ukraine’s ambitions to move closer to the EU and NATO.

Putin is frustrated at the resulting U.S. and EU sanctions but appears unwilling to make concessions that would bring them to an end. Ukraine is split between a volatile government in Kiev and a Russia-backed separatist region stuck in a frozen but still deadly conflict that serves Putin’s interests.

Moscow’s actions in Ukraine sent a warning signal to other countries in Russia’s orbit that reaching westward is dangerous. And former Soviet bloc states within the EU are increasingly drifting back toward Moscow, from Hungary and Poland to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.



Putin’s new mandate could theoretically hand him the power to make bold reforms that Russia has long needed to raise living standards and wean itself from its oil dependence.

But Putin has convinced Russian voters that drastic change is dangerous, and that protecting the country from threats takes precedence over improving daily life.

Experts predict he may enact some changes like expanding affordable housing and fighting corruption on a local level.

But less likely are bigger changes such as overhauling the pension system, which is unpopular among a strong Putin voting base, or spending cuts in the security sector, unpopular among the ex-KGB friends in Putin’s entourage.

Russia has weathered a two-year recession, and inflation and the deficit are low. But personal incomes have stagnated, the health care system is crumbling and corruption is rife.



The biggest question for Russians over the next six years is what happens after that.

Putin is constitutionally required to step down in 2024, but he could change the rules to eliminate term limits, or anoint a malleable successor and continue to run things behind the scenes.

Asked at an impromptu news conference Sunday night if he would seek the presidency again in 2030, when he would be eligible again, the 65-year-old Putin snapped back: “It’s ridiculous. Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?”

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most serious foe, will face further pressure from authorities as he works to expose corruption and official lies.

Other Putin rivals such as candidate Ksenia Sobchak and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky will try to gain a foothold through upcoming local elections and the parliament.

And members of Putin’s inner circle will be jockeying for position for the day when he is no longer in the picture.

Putin may revive efforts to promote artificial intelligence and other innovation as part of a focus on the younger generation, whose loyalty he needs to ensure his legacy outlives him.

China appoints US-trained central banker


A U.S.-trained economist was appointed Monday to succeed the longtime governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, at a time when the ruling Communist Party is trying to reduce financial risks and surging debt.

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The appointment of Yi Gang, a veteran deputy central banker, to head the People’s Bank of China was in a slate of promotions approved by China’s ceremonial legislature of finance and economic officials as President Xi Jinping tightens control over government.

Also Monday, the National People’s Congress endorsed the elevation of Liu He, Xi’s economic adviser, to a post as vice premier, where he is expected to oversee economic reform.

The ruling Communist Party is under pressure to control surging debt, defuse mounting trade tensions with Washington and Europe and make the cooling, state-dominated economy more productive. It has promised to open more industries to private and foreign competition but business groups and reform advocates complain Beijing is moving too slowly.

The NPC endorsed the appointment of Zhong Shan to a second term as commerce minister. Liu Kun was named finance minister.

Yi, 60, is well known to foreign investors and foreign regulators as head of China’s foreign exchange regulator. He has overseen efforts to make the mechanism that sets the exchange rate for China’s tightly controlled yuan more market-oriented.

Yi received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and taught at Indiana University. He also has a degree in business administration from Hamline University in Minnesota.

“Highly regarded in the international circles and seen as a pragmatic reformist, Yi Gang’s appointment is set to ensure policy continuity and a smooth transition,” said Mizuho Bank in a report.

Zhou, who is retiring after a record 15 years in the post, is the most prominent Chinese figure in global finance. At 70, he is well beyond official retirement age but stayed on following the 2012 handover of power to a new generation of leaders under President Xi Jinping in what was seen as an effort to reassure companies and financial markets of stability.

Beijing is trying to rein in surging debt that prompted international ratings agencies to cut its credit rating last year. The Communist Party has declared controlling financial risk a priority this year.

Zhou warned in October that rising debt could have a “severe impact” on the economy but said last week regulators believed they had debt under control.

The central bank governor’s formal powers are limited despite the post’s high profile. Unlike central banks of other major economies, the People’s Bank doesn’t make monetary policy. Instead, its mission is to carry out policy made by an official body the identity of whose members is secret.

The People’s Bank is widely seen as an advocate of conventional, market-oriented economics.

Vietnam trying ex-Politburo member over oil giant's losses


A court in Hanoi began a criminal trial Monday of a former Politburo member accused of mismanagement at state oil giant PetroVietnam that cost millions of dollars.

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PetroVietnam and the banking sector have been at the center of the country’s recent crackdown against corruption with scores of executives being put on trial.

Dinh La Thang, formerly the chairman of the state oil giant, already was the first former Politburo to be jailed in decades in another case earlier this year. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in January for mismanagement involving the construction of a thermo power plant, costing the state millions.

In the current case, Thang is accused of deliberately violating economic management regulations by investing $35 million to buy 20 percent of shares in Ocean Bank without approval from the board of directors, the official Vietnam News Agency reported. The investment was lost when the bank was later acquired by the State Bank at no cost, it added.

“Defendant Dinh La Thang as head of PetroVietnam bears the highest responsibility in managing and safeguarding the investment of PetroVietnam,” the agency quoted the indictment as saying.

The trial of Thang and six other former senior PetroVietnam executives is expected to last 10 days. Thang would face a jail term of up to 20 years if he is convicted.

Thang was once a rising political star but was dismissed from the all-powerful Politburo in May and was subsequently fired as Communist Party secretary of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested on Dec. 8.

The ruling Communist Party has recently stepped up its crackdown against corruption to an unprecedented level under the watch of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong who was re-elected to another five-year term at the party’s congress in January 2016.

Mississippi boy, 9, fatally shoots teen sister in head over video game controller, police say


A 9-year-old boy fatally shot his 13-year-old sister in Mississippi on Saturday afternoon when she refused to hand over a video game controller, authorities said.

The victim, Dijonae White, was shot in the back of the head and the bullet entered her brain, Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell told reporters, according to WLOV-TV.

White was a student at Tupelo Middle School, the station reported.

Cantrell, who said he had never seen a case like this one, confirmed late Sunday the girl died from her injuries after being rushed to Le Bonheur’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. 

White’s brother wanted a video game controller in her possession and grabbed a gun when she refused, police said. It remains unclear how the firearm used in the shooting had been accessed.

The children’s mother was in another room feeding other children lunch at the time of the incident, authorities said.

The sheriff added that the circumstances of the shooting are still being investigated, and that he is unsure what consequences the boy will face at this time, WLOV-TV reported.

Monroe County is in northeast Mississippi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

6 months after Mexico quake some still camp outside homes

Under a patchwork shelter of overlapping tarps and repurposed vinyl advertisements, several dozen residents of 18 Independence Street pack cheek by jowl into donated tents in the street near their building, which was damaged in the Sept. 19 earthquake.

Six months after the temblor, improvised camps like this one erected by displaced residents are among the most visible signs that not everyone has moved on from the earthquake that killed 228 people in Mexico City and 141 more elsewhere.

Mexico City Reconstruction Commissioner Edgar Oswaldo Tungui Rodriguez said there are 27 such camps around the capital, but denied that people were living in any of them. Rather, he said, quake victims had just posted guards to watch over their property.

Camps visited by Associated Press journalists offered a different reality.

Maria Patricia Rodriguez Gonzalez has been living under tarps on the sidewalk near the Independence Street building with her 13-year-old son and 27-year old daughter for the past six months.

The residents are still allowed to enter the building, but nobody risks staying there.

The bedroom floor in Rodriguez’s apartment has sunk since the earthquake. The ceiling sags and plaster has fallen from the walls. Afraid to use the bathroom there, she heats water on a gas burner under the tarps and manages a sort of bath inside a portable toilet on the sidewalk.

At first, Rodriguez and other residents say, there was a lot of solidarity in the neighborhood. Some neighbors let them use their bathrooms and shared food after the magnitude 7.1 quake. But as the days turned to weeks and then to months, sentiments shifted.

People have stolen the gas tanks they use to heat food. Cars have come close to driving through the camp. Some neighbors have stopped speaking to them, others hurl insults.

“It makes us sad that people insult us without knowing the reality we are living,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not here because we want to be. We’re here out of necessity.”

Displaced residents received 3,000 pesos ($160) each month for the first three months from the government. The idea was that they would rent apartments elsewhere. But residents say that was not enough to rent apartments in their neighborhood and they fear that without their presence, looters will clear out their possessions. Many residents had lived in the building’s 37 units for more than 30 years.

Rodriguez tries to make ends meet by selling candy on a table at the entrance to her camp. She had sold candy out of her ground floor apartment before the earthquake. Others go off to jobs during the day while a few of the building’s older women look after the others’ young children.

Most everyone has a cough and especially the children are often battling colds, said resident Emma Alvarez Lopez, who helps look after children. Her own granddaughter eventually had to leave the camp after contracting pneumonia.

“If we go, we’ll practically be abandoning the building,” Alvarez said. “We have to somehow pressure the government to support us.”

For now, they await an official determination from the city about their building. Most believe it will need to be torn down.

Tungui, the reconstruction commissioner, said in written responses to questions that city officials so far have determined what to do with 757 structures out of 911 on a list of damaged buildings compiled by an emergency committee. Some will be demolished, others repaired or reinforced. So far the city has demolished 28 buildings and is currently working on 15 others, he said.

The city announced last week that it had taken ownership of a lot where an office building collapsed, killing 49 people. It plans to convert it into a memorial to victims of the earthquake.

Oregon man says intruders ambushed him in his home


An Oregon man claims that he was nearly beaten to death Sunday after being ambushed by strangers in his home.

Joshua Morrison, of Portland, told Fox 12 that a woman who was screaming for help knocked on his door and when he opened the door the woman started to punch him in the face. Morrison said two men then appeared in his doorway and tied him up.

“They just all three of them started attacking me,” he told the station. “They’d work on my face while they held my wrist. I thought I was actually going to die. I was telling myself in my mind, I’m going to die now, this is it — just keep fighting, just keep fighting.”

Morrison said the suspects hit him in the face with the end of a shotgun they found inside his home. He said the attackers even hurt his cat.

Morrison said he had to stay in the hospital for a few days.

A GoFundMe page set up for his medical bills show Morrison with multiple lacerations to his head and nose.

“I was telling myself in my mind, I’m going to die now, this is it — just keep fighting, just keep fighting.”

– Joshua Morrison

Portland police were called to the home, but the intruders had left before authorities arrived, according to Fox 12.

Police were still investigating the incident and have not provided details of possible suspects.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

China names former missile force commander defense minister


China has appointed a former missile force commander as its new defense minister.

Lt. Gen. Wei Fenghe’s naming as the international face of China’s rapid military modernization was among a series of appointments undertaken by the ceremonial legislature on Monday.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi was reappointed to that position and also promoted to state counselor, while Zhao Kezhi was confirmed as minister of public security in charge of the police.

Chen Wenqing remains minister of state security responsible for espionage and counterintelligence.

Wei is outranked by President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, and two vice chairmen, but will be the main interface between China’s 2 million-member armed forces and the rest of the world’s militaries.

Austin on edge after explosion leaves 2 injured; cause of blast unclear


Austin was on edge Sunday night after an explosion left two people with non-life threatening injuries in a southwestern neighborhood of Texas’ capital.

Austin police Chief Brian Manley urged residents in the area to stay inside their homes until at least daylight. He reiterated to residents not to touch or even go near any packages.

There was no immediate word on what caused the blast or if it was related to the three package bombs that were detonated earlier this month in other areas of Austin that left two people dead and two others injured.

FBI agents work the scene of an explosion in Austin, Texas, Sunday, March 18, 2018. At least a few people were injured in another explosion in Texas' capital late Sunday, after three package bombs detonated this month in other parts of the city, killing two people and injuring two others. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

There was no immediate word on what caused the blast or if it was related to the three package bombs that were detonated earlier this month in other areas of Austin that left two people dead and two others injured.  (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Police blocked entrances to the neighborhood where Sunday’s blast occurred and put up yellow tape about half-a-mile from the home where it happened.

Manley said police were working to clear a suspicious backpack.

Police said two men in their mid-20s were injured in the blast. KVUE-TV reported that one man had nails in his leg.

A witness speaking to Fox 7 described hearing a “loud bang,” adding that it was “not a car crash, not gunshots but something terrible.”

A package bomb exploded at an east Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two package bombs in other parts of the city exploded last Monday, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman.

A police vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of an explosion, Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

A witness speaking to Fox 7 described hearing a “loud bang,” adding that it was “not a car crash, not gunshots but something terrible.”  (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Officials said the bombings appeared to be related, but Manley said investigators didn’t know a possible motive or “what the ideology is behind this.”

Earlier Sunday, Austin police said the reward for information leading to an arrest in the deadly explosions has risen by $50,000 to a new total of $115,000. Manley said more than 500 officers, including federal agents, have conducted 236 interviews in following up 435 leads.

Fox News’ Michael Arroyo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

Asian markets mixed following Wall Street gains


Asian stock markets were mixed Monday following Wall Street’s gain and China’s appointment of a new central bank governor and other top economic officials.

KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.2 percent to 3,275.28 while Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 shed 0.9 percent to 21,483.22. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent to 31,618.67 and Seoul’s Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 2,484.41. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,963.50 while Taiwan also rose. Benchmarks in New Zealand and Southeast Asia declined.

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WALL STREET: Energy companies, industrial firms and smaller companies gained, helping the market break a losing streak. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.2 percent to 2,752.01. The Dow Jones industrial average added 0.3 percent to 24,946.51. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.25 points to 7,481.99.

CHINA’S NEW FACES: A U.S.-trained economist was named to succeed longtime Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan as part of a slate of new economic officials. The appointments come as Beijing is trying to rein in surging debt and reduce financial risk. The new governor of the People’s Bank of China, Yi Gang, is a veteran deputy central banker who is known to foreign investors and regulators as head of China’s foreign exchange regulator. The ceremonial national legislature also approved a second term for the commerce minister and appointed a finance minister.

FED WATCH: Investors are closely watching this week’s first meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s rate-setting committee under newly appointed Fed chairman Jerome Powell. The potential for insight into how the new Fed leadership will operate makes this “arguably one of the most important policy setting meetings in recent years,” said Tai Hui of J.P. Morgan Asset Management, in a report. Forecasters already expect a 0.25 percentage point increase in the Fed’s benchmark interest rate but want to know its economic outlook, which will influence future decisions. “The committee’s assessment on the U.S. economy and subsequent policy outlook is going to be crucial,” said Hui.

RUSSIAN ELECTION: President Vladimir Putin rolled to a crushing re-election victory. There had been no doubt that Putin would win his fourth election against seven minor candidates after his most prominent foe was blocked from the ballot. With ballots from 80 percent of Russia’s precincts counted by early Monday, Putin had amassed 76 percent of the vote. Observers and individual voters reported widespread violations including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the claims are unlikely to dilute the power of Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. As the embodiment of Russia’s resurgent power on the world stage, Putin commands immense loyalty among Russians.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 31 cents to $62.03 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $1.15 on Friday to close at $62.34. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 36 cents to $65.85 per barrel in London. It climbed $1.09 on Friday to $66.21.

CURRENCY: The dollar edged down to 105.81 yen from Friday’s 105.98 yen. The euro declined to $1.2273 from $1.2291.

Fire at Philippine hotel-casino out, death toll raised to 5


Philippine officials say firefighters have found two more bodies in a hotel and casino complex in the Philippine capital that was gutted by fire and thick heavy smoke and raised the death toll to five.

Officials said Monday one of several people injured in the blaze at the Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino was fighting for her life in a hospital. All others guests and hotel employees have been accounted for.

It remains unclear if the fire, which raged from Sunday morning to early Monday, started in the casino on the lower floors or in an area that was under renovation.

More than 300 hotel guests and employees were evacuated at the height of the fire.

Greenpeace says brands refusing to reveal palm oil sources


Greenpeace says household brands including PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson are refusing to disclose where they get their palm oil from despite vows to stop buying from companies that cut down tropical forests to grow the widely used commodity.

The environmental group said Monday it had in January asked 16 major brands to reveal their suppliers of palm oil, which is mainly grown in Indonesia and Malaysia and used in a slew of consumer products from snacks to cosmetics. It said eight disclosed the information and eight refused.

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Separately, Greenpeace said consumer goods companies are “way off track” in meeting a 2010 commitment to remove deforestation-linked palm oil from their supply chains by 2020.

It said, “corporate commitments and polices have proliferated, but companies have largely failed to implement them.”

Uproar after New Jersey high school allegedly suspends students over gun-range photo


A New Jersey high school came under fire Friday after it allegedly suspended two students over a gun photo taken during a family visit to a shooting range.

News of the unnamed students’ suspension circulated through a Lacey Township Facebook group, according to

Amanda Buron, a Lacey resident and family friend of one of the suspended students said one of the photos shared on SnapChat featured four rifles, ammunition clips and a gun duffel with the caption “fun day at the range,” reported. 

Buron said the two students received a five-day in-school suspension after the picture drew the attention of Lacey Township High School officials, who argued that it violated the school’s policy on weapons possession.

The school district shortly faced community backlash for the alleged suspension, with many calling for people to appear at the school board’s next meeting Monday to protest the decision.

The school, however, denied the students were suspended for over the picture.

“Information posted on social media is incorrect,” Lacey schools Superintendent Craig Wigley told the publication last week. The officials declined to provide any additional details or point out what exactly was false.

The controversy brought the attention of a New Jersey gun advocacy group that sent the school district a cease and desist letter and threatening a lawsuit if it does not overturn the suspension of the students and change the policies regarding the Second Amendment.

The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC) said in a letter that the school’s policies allow suspending students for up to a year if they are “reported to be in possession of a weapon of any type for any reason or purpose on or off school grounds.”

“Information posted on social media is incorrect.”

– Lacey schools Superintendent Craig Wigley

“The policy is clearly wrong and violates the Second Amendment. We hope that they’re reasonable people and they will fix it. If they don’t, we’re prepared to take legal action,” ANJRPC executive director Scott Bach told

The group also demands the school to apologize to the two suspended teens.

“Schools do not have the authority to chill the rights of their students off of school grounds, and this blatant infringement of constitutional rights will not be tolerated,” Bach added. “I don’t care if no students were disciplined. The policy has got to go.”

Overtly broad policies of the school district have been criticized in the past. Ed Cardinal, whose son attends a school in the same district, said the officials once demanded his son to remove a window sticker of a gun from his pickup truck that he drives to school.

“He was kind of heated about it and so was I,” Cardinal said.

They abided by the demands and removed sticker after the district threatened to punish the teen.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Another explosion injures 2 in Austin, Texas; cause unclear


Two people were injured in another explosion in Texas’ capital Sunday night, after three package bombs detonated earlier this month in other areas of the city and killed two people and injured two others.

Austin-Travis County Emergency Management Services reported that an explosion in southwest Austin injured two men in their 20s who were hospitalized with injuries that didn’t appear to be life-threatening.

There was no immediate word on what caused the blast or if it was related to the previous ones. Those blasts began when a package bomb exploded at an east Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man.

Two more package bombs then exploded March 12, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman.

Sunday’s explosion occurred far from the first three blasts, which happened in separate, suburban neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city.

Police blocked entrances to the neighborhood where Sunday’s blast occurred and put up yellow tape about half a mile from the home where it happened. They urged those living nearby to stay in their homes.

Despite that order, neighbors milled around just outside the tape, but they said they hadn’t seen or heard much. FBI agents were conducting interviews with some of them.

The latest explosion came hours after authorities raised the reward by $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the first three explosions. It now totals $115,000.

Austin police Chief Brian Manley has said the earlier three bombings are related and could be crimes of hatred, but that investigators have not ruled out any possible motive or any clear idea “what the ideology is behind this.”

Manley said more than 500 officers, including agents from the FBI and other federal agencies, have conducted 236 interviews in following up on 435 leads.

Australian wildfires raze dozens of homes, kill livestock


Wildfires razed dozens of homes in southeast Australia, cut power to thousands more and killed livestock, but most of the weekend blazes had been contained by Monday. There have been no reports of serious injury, officials said.

The worst-hit town was Tathra on the south coast of New South Wales state where more than 70 homes and businesses had been severely damaged or destroyed by a fire that started in woods around midday on Sunday, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

In neighboring Victoria state, up to 18 homes had been destroyed over the weekend by three fires and 40,000 homes lost power, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said. Sheep and cattle losses had yet to be assessed.

Some of Tathra’s evacuated residents would be able to return to their homes on Monday, as emergency workers restore power to the devastated area, Fitzsimmons said.

China's next economic czar: Harvard-trained Xi adviser


China’s next economy czar is a Harvard-trained supporter of free markets who is President Xi Jinping’s top adviser but has no experience fighting the bureaucratic battles the post can require.

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Liu He’s rise comes as the ruling Communist Party faces mounting pressure to make its cooling, state-dominated economy more productive. That will require politically fraught changes to open industries wider to private and foreign competition.

On Monday, the 66-year-old Liu was named one of four vice premiers by China’s ceremonial legislature. No details of his duties were immediately announced but he is widely expected to have broad economic powers.

As a vice premier, Liu would answer to Premier Li Keqiang, whose post traditionally is top economic official. But Xi, China’s most dominant figure since the 1980s, has stripped Li of many of his job’s most prominent duties by appointing himself head of the ruling Communist Party’s body overseeing economic reform.

Dubbed China’s “economic mastermind” by Hong Kong newspapers, the silver-haired Liu is making a late-career change to a politically challenging role carrying out plans after two decades designing them. He is close to Xi, China’s most dominant figure since the 1970s, but unlike previous reformers-in-chief has no background in industry or as a mayor or provincial governor.

“He might be able to design the right policy. However, getting people to implement it, especially at the local level, might be a challenge,” said Hongyi Lai, a specialist in Chinese politics at Britain’s University of Nottingham, ahead of Monday’s announcement.

“If someone is disobedient, he may draw on Xi’s power to push through the policy,” said Lai. “But I would say that cannot be used on a daily basis.”

A member of the party’s 25-member Politburo, Liu already is in charge of a Cabinet agency created in November to oversee financial reform, monetary and industrial policy and regulatory changes.

Liu made his debut on the global stage with a speech in January at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on a program that included U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

People who have met him say Liu is fluent in colloquial English and talks candidly about the need to change state-owned industry, as well as the resistance that might face. He has told foreign businesspeople he favors free markets and disagrees with plans for state-led development of industries from electric cars to robots to biotech.

“There is a sense of urgency among Xi’s people, including Liu He, that reforms have lagged behind,” said Dali Yang, a University of Chicago political scientist.

Reform advocates are hoping that after spending his first five years in office amassing power, Xi will accelerate what they complain has been sluggish action on carrying out an ambitious agenda announced by the party in 2013. It called for giving markets the “decisive role” and opening industries wider to private business.

Xi has sent mixed signals by affirming plans to build up state companies that dominate fields from energy to banking to telecoms.

Foreign companies complain that even when Beijing promises to open finance and other industries, it fails to follow through or imposes unappealing conditions such as ownership limits or a requirement to hand over technology.

“Companies are getting very tired of promises,” said Jake Parker, vice president for China operations of the U.S.-China Business Council. “They want to see action.”

Previous top economic officials had more bureaucratic experience.

Former Premier Zhu Rongji, who openly feuded with state company bosses and local officials during a painful industry overhaul in 1998-2003, was a former mayor and party secretary of Shanghai. Wu Yi had a career in the state-owned oil industry before she helped negotiate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and ran finance policy as a vice premier in 2003-08.

Liu’s experience is in the halls of power in Beijing, an asset at a time when Xi has gathered decision-making powers to the party center.

Liu has been part of the policymaking inner circle since the 1990s, helping to craft the party’s five-year development plans. He was named a vice minister of the party’s economic leading group in 2003 under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, and is a vice chairman of the Cabinet’s planning agency.

Liu was among millions of urban young people who were sent to the countryside during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, the ultra-radical upheaval launched by then-leader Mao Zedong.

In 1972, Liu joined the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, where he served in an anti-aircraft regiment, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. He earned a master’s degree in economics from the party’s Renmin University and a second in public administration in 1995 from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In 2014, Liu was awarded China’s top economics prize for a research paper that compared the causes and outcomes of the 1930s depression and the 2008 financial crisis.

Among its conclusions: “Seek the widest intersection between Chinese and global interests.”

Another calls for avoiding conflict abroad — a position at odds with Xi’s ambitions for global influence and confrontational stance toward Japan, South Korea and Vietnam over territorial disputes.

“We should always warn ourselves not to be easily embroiled in international conflicts,” Liu wrote. “Instead, we should focus on really important matters to substantially improve our domestic conditions.”

Even as a vice premier, Liu still would be carrying out plans made by the party leadership as a whole.

“You have to respect the fact that state-owned enterprises continue to be significant assets for the political system,” said Yang. “He needs to be fairly careful.”


AP Writer Gerry Shih contributed.

Australian officials deny claims MH370 can be seen from the air, was riddled with bullet holes


Australian officials on Sunday shut down rumors that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could be seen in the Indian Ocean and was riddled with “bullet holes.”

Peter McMahon, a 64-year-old Australian mechanical engineer, claimed that Google Earth images purportedly showed the missing plane in the water 10 miles south of the island of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, The Sun reported

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The images that Peter McMahon said showed the missing Malaysia Airlines flight were from 2009, officials said.

The engineer reportedly said officials with the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau (ATSB) told him the images — which appear to show a basic outline of a plane — could show the aircraft, which vanished on March 8, 2014. However, officials speaking to Fox News denied they told him that.

A spokesperson for the Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC) told Fox News in a statement that McMahon reached out to the agency via Facebook and email in 2016 and 2017, but at no time “did the ATSB suggest [McMahon’s] eviednce could be missing flight MH370.”

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The Google Earth images Peter McMahon sent to the Australian agency were from Nov. 6, 2009 — more than four years before the airplane disappeared.

The Google Earth images McMahon sent to the Australian agency were from Nov. 6, 2009 — more than four years before the airplane disappeared, officials added.


McMahon, according to The Sun, also claimed officials didn’t want the plane to be found because “it’s full of bullet holes” — a subject which he did not further elaborate.

The JACC told Fox News that McMahon’s claims were “spurious” and that they “must be particularly upsetting for the family and friends of those lost on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.”

The flight’s disappearance has been regarded as one of the world’s biggest mysteries. The Boeing 777 flight was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing in 2014.

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A man looking at a message board remembering the MH370 passengers on March 3, 2018, four years after the jet vanished.  (REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin)

The downed flight sparked sprawling searches from the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa. U.S.-based company Ocean Infinity in January was approved to start a new expedition in search of wreckage from the flight.

Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.

US, S Korea and Japan discuss denuclearization, summit talks


Top U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have discussed how to achieve a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula ahead of upcoming inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean summit talks.

Seoul has said previously that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to hold summit talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April. Seoul says Kim proposed meeting with President Donald Trump, and Trump agreed to him by the end of May.

The developments have raised hopes for a potential breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in San Francisco for talks over the weekend on denuclearization and the summit talks.

South Korea’s presidential office says the three agreed to maintain close trilateral cooperation.

Japan's February exports, imports grow amid trade war fears


Japan’s exports in February grew 1.8 percent compared to the same month a year ago, according to Ministry of Finance data released Monday.

Worries are growing about a possible trade war over President Donald Trump’s 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

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Japan is asking for an exemption.

Exports are expected to grow in coming months, boosted by global economic growth. Japan exports much of its steel to Asia and not the U.S.

Exports grew to 6.46 trillion yen ($61 billion). Japan’s imports in February grew 16.5 percent on year also to 6.46 trillion yen ($61 billion), when rounded off, leaving a surplus of 3.4 billion yen ($32 million), the ministry said.

By country, Japan’s exports to the U.S. in February grew 4.3 percent.

Explosion reported in Austin, at least 2 injured


At least two men suffered serious injuries Sunday night after a reported explosion in Austin, Texas, emergency workers said.

Crews did not immediately confirm whether the explosion was the result of a package bomb. Three such blasts over the past month in Austin have killed two people and critically wounded at least two women.

Sunday’s reported explosion unfolded on Eagle Feather Drive, the Austin-Travis County EMS tweeted. “At this incident, 2 patients have been identified and are prepping those patients for transport.”

The EMS also acknowledged reports of a “second explosion” on nearby Dawn Song Drive, but said crews were investigating whether it was the same blast reported twice.

A package bomb exploded at an east Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two package bombs in other parts of the city exploded last Monday, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman. Officials said the bombings appeared to be related, but Interim Police Chief Bryan Manley said investigators didn’t know a possible motive or “what the ideology is behind this.”

Earlier Sunday, Austin police said the reward for information leading to an arrest in the deadly explosions has risen by $50,000 to a new total of $115,000. Manley said more than 500 officers, including federal agents, have conducted 236 interviews in following up 435 leads.

This is a developing story; check back for updates. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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DC council member apologizes after blaming snowfall on Jewish bankers controlling climate


A Washington D.C. council member apologized Sunday evening after he blamed a snow squall on a well-known Jewish banking dynasty.

In an Instagram post, Democrat Trayon White apologized to “the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended.”

White made the comments on a Facebook video which was shot Friday morning through the windshield of a car driving through downtown Washington during snowfall.

“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man,” White said, according to The Washington Post. “Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation.”

“And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man,” he added. “Be careful.”

The Rothschilds are a European family that once possessed the largest private fortune in the world. Their banking businesses provided the financing for government projects such as the Suez Canal. Their wealth and influence has made them the subject of several conspiracy theories, most of which are anti-Semitic.

“I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic [sic], and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues,” White said. He added that he was working to “understand the history of comment [sic] made against Jews.”

White was elected to the D.C. city council in 2016. He represents Ward 8 in the city, the seat once held by controversial former Mayor Marion Barry.

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Senators want to know how FAA approved open-door flights


A deadly helicopter crash has prompted New York’s senators to call for an investigation into how the Federal Aviation Administration ever approved open-door helicopter sightseeing flights and tight harness systems.

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Democratic U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (KEER’-sten JIHL’-uh-brand) made the demand in a joint letter on Sunday to the Department of Transportation’s inspector general.

They say “clearly something went remarkably wrong” with the FAA’s approval process that allowed helicopters that fly with their doors open, often so passengers can take pictures, and use harnesses that can’t be quickly released.

On Friday, the FAA temporarily grounded open-door flights and the use of tight seat restraints.

The ban came amid concerns such harnesses prevented passengers from escaping when their helicopter plunged into the East River last Sunday, killing five people.