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GOP Lawmakers targeted in shooting, House Whip critically wounded

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A rifle-wielding attacker opened fire on Republican lawmakers as they practiced for a charity baseball game Wednesday, critically wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and hitting aides and Capitol police as congressmen and others dove for cover. The assailant, who had nursed grievances against President Donald Trump and the GOP, fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.

Colleagues said Scalise had been fielding balls at second base at a local park in Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, as the Republicans practiced for their annual game with Democrats. He dragged himself away from the infield leaving a trail of blood before fellow lawmakers could rush to his assistance. He was listed in critical condition Wednesday night at a Washington hospital, which said he will require several more operations.

The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois who had several minor run-ins with the law in recent years and belonged to a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” He had been living out of his van in the Alexandria area in recent months, the FBI said.

Capitol Police officers who were in Scalise’s security detail wounded the shooter. He later died of his injuries, Trump told the nation from the White House.

“Everyone on that field is a public servant,” Trump said, his tone somber, America’s acrimonious politics set aside for the moment. “Their sacrifice makes democracy possible.”

Lawmakers noted their good fortune in having armed protectors on hand — “Thank God,” they exclaimed over and over — and said otherwise the shooter would have been able to take a huge deadly toll.

The events left the capital horrified and stunned, and prompted immediate reflection on the current hostility and vitriol in American politics. Lawmakers called for a new dialogue on lowering the partisan temperature, and Trump urged Americans to come together as he assumed the role of national unifier for one of the first times in his presidency.

Trump later visited the hospital where Scalise was recovering. The president then tweeted: “Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape – but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”

Proceedings were canceled for the day in the House, and instead Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued their own calls for unity. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said, to prolonged applause.

Shortly after the shooting, Bernie Sanders, the former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said on the Senate floor that the shooter apparently was a volunteer for his campaign last year. Sanders said he denounced the violence “in the strongest possible terms.”

Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader, was first elected in 2008. The popular and gregarious lawmaker is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative bats when he secured the job of House whip several years ago.

Texas Rep. Roger Williams said that one of his aides, Zack Barth, was shot but was doing well and expected to fully recover. Two Capitol Police officers sustained relatively minor injuries. A former congressional aide was hospitalized.

The shooting occurred at a popular park and baseball complex where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the annual congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off, which raises money for charity, is scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park across the Potomac River in Washington, and will go forward as planned.

Hodgkinson has been in the area since March, living out of his van, said Washington FBI Special Agent In Charge Tim Slater. Democratic former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said he had spoken often with the man on recent mornings at the nearby YMCA.

Hodgkinson’s apparent Facebook page included strong criticism of Republicans and the Trump administration. But Slater said authorities were still working to determine a motive and had no indication Hodgkinson knew about the baseball practice ahead of time.

The GOP lawmakers’ team was taking batting practice when gunshots rang out and chaos erupted.

After Scalise was hit, said Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, the congressman “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”

“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.

The gunman had a rifle and “a lot of ammo,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at the practice.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton, still in his baseball uniform, told reporters that Scalise’s security detail, Capitol Hill police and then Alexandria police returned fire in a battle that lasted as long as 10 minutes and included dozens of shots.

“The security detail saved a lot of lives,” he said. “It was scary.”

Lawmakers took cover in the dugout. Barton said his son, Jack, got under an SUV.

Texas Rep. Mike Conaway described what sounded like an explosion, then lawmakers scattering off the field as police roamed in search of the gunman and engaged him.

“The guy’s down to a handgun, he dropped his rifle, they shoot him, I go over there, they put him in handcuffs,” Conaway said, adding that if the shooter had “gotten inside the fence, where a bunch of guys were holed up in the dugout, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he had just left the practice and encountered the apparent gunman in the parking lot before the shooting. The man calmly asked which party’s lawmakers were practicing and Duncan told him they were the Republicans. The man thanked him.

The wounded Capitol Police officers were identified as David Bailey, who was treated for a minor injury, and Crystal Griner, who was shot in the ankle. Also wounded was former congressional aide Matt Mika, who now works for Tyson Foods in its Washington office. Mika’s family said the lobbyist was shot multiple times and was in critical condition following surgery.

The event raised questions about the security of members of Congress. While the top lawmakers, including Scalise, have security details, others do not and regularly appear in public without protection. The last time a lawmaker was shot was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was hit in the head and grievously injured while meeting with constituents at a supermarket parking lot in 2011.

Following the Giffords shooting, lawmakers have held fewer open town halls and have been advised to increase security at such events.

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Colorado

Expect more bigger, more damaging hail storms as they hit areas with growing populations

limate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear experts aren’t clear.

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Hailstorms inflict billions of dollars in damage yearly in North America alone, and the cost will rise as the growing population builds more homes, offices and factories, climate and weather experts said Tuesday.

The role of climate change in hailstorms is harder to assess, the experts said at a conference at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Climate change will likely make large hailstorms worse, but population growth is more of a certainty, said Andreas Prein, a climate modeling scientist at the atmospheric research center.

“We know pretty certain that we will have more people in the future, and they will have more stuff, and this stuff can be damaged,” Prein said. “I think this component is more certain than what we can say about climate change at the moment.”

This year is expected to be the 11th in a row in which the damage from severe storms exceeds $10 billion in the United States, and 70 percent of that cost comes from hail, said Ian Giammanco, a research meteorologist for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

“It’s such a huge driver of the dollar loss each year,” he said.

Costs are rising in the U.S. because homes are getting bigger, from about 1,700 square feet (139 square meters) in the early 1980s to 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) in 2015, he said. New subdivisions also pack homes in more tightly, Giammanco said.

“So it’s a bigger target for hailstorms to hit,” he said.

The effects of climate change on hail and the resulting damage are harder to calculate because hailstorms require distinct ingredients, and global warming affects them in different ways, Prein said.

To form, hailstorms require moisture, an updraft, variable winds and freezing temperatures at lower levels of the storm cloud, he said.

Updrafts lift water droplets into the clouds, where they attract other droplets and freeze together, scientists say. Winds of varying speed and direction keep the droplets suspended in the cloud long enough to grow into hailstones. When they eventually fall, freezing temperatures in the cloud keep them from melting before they hit warmer air closer to the ground.

Climate change will likely increase updrafts, helping hailstones form, Prein said.

But it will inhibit two hail-producing conditions, he said. Warmer temperatures will expand higher into the atmosphere, so falling hailstones have more time to melt before hitting the ground. And differences in wind speed and direction will subside, he said.

Climate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear, he said.

Kristen Rasmussen, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said the combined effects of climate change will probably inhibit the number of weaker storms but increase the number of severe ones.

“So we actually think that’s why we’re seeing a decrease in the number of weak to moderate storms and an increase in the most severe storms,” she said. “If those storms are able to break through this inhibition, they … have the potential to be more severe, and they can tap into more energy when they do so.”

The researchers said they need more data to understand the relationship between climate change and hailstorms. Improved science could also help predict hailstorms and calculate risks better, they said.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Andes in South America and the Himalayas all have conditions that make them hotspots for hail, Rasmussen said.

A May 2017 hailstorm in the Denver area caused $2.3 billion in insurance losses. Last week, hail injured 14 people in Colorado Springs and killed at least five animals at the city zoo. Damage estimates were still being compiled.

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Wyoming officials oppose SecDef Mattis on returning war-trophy to the Philippines

Wyoming officials contest the Department of Defense calling the return of The Bells of Balangiga of a “national security interest of the United States.”

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The United States should not return church bells seized as war trophies from the Philippines over a century ago, Wyoming’s congressional delegation said Monday.

It’s a position Wyoming officials have repeated often over the years amid reports the Bells of Balangiga were to be repatriated. This time, however, the U.S. Defense Department appears intent on following through.

Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote members of Congress over the weekend saying it was “in the national security interest of the United States” to return the bells.

Two of the Bells of Balangiga are at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third is with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

U.S. Army soldiers took the bells following an attack on the island of Samar in which 48 American troops were killed in 1901.

“These bells are memorials to American war dead and should not be transferred to the Philippines,” the all-Republican delegation made up of U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, said in a joint statement Monday.

Most U.S. veterans oppose returning the bells to the Philippines and the delegation opposes any effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to return the bells without veterans’ support, the statement said.

Groups including the American Legion and Republican Gov. Matt Mead opposed returning the bells when the idea came up in 2012, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

This time, the Defense Department consulted at length with veterans’ service organizations about possibly returning the bells, Mattis wrote.

Filipinos revere the bells as symbols of national pride and President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called for their return. Fewer Filipino combatants died than the Americans in the Balangiga attack but perhaps five times more than the 4,200 Americans were killed over the course of the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War. The war also killed 100,000 or more civilians, according to some estimates.

U.S. Air Force officials didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

The two bells in Wyoming followed a U.S. Army infantry regiment based on Samar during the U.S. occupation. The 11th Infantry arrived in 1904 at Fort D.A. Russell, which in 1930 became Fort Francis E. Warren and in 1949 F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

The third bell followed the 9th Infantry to Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

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Ontario to allow online cannabis sales this fall, in-stores starting 2019

Ontario allowing cannabis sales in private retail stores April 1.

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TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s most populous province said Monday it will allow the online sale of pot this fall and the sale of cannabis in private retail stores next April.

Marijuana will be legal across Canada on Oct. 17. In the meantime, its provinces are working out issues concerning regulations.

Ontario’s new conservative government announced it is scrapping the previous administration’s plan to allow pot sales only in government-run stores — a model of public ownership that is unusual in the U.S. No U.S. state owns marijuana retail outlets.

Ontario will allow cannabis to be purchased online through a government run website when legalization takes effect in three months. Pot won’t be in stores until April 1.

Private store models are also being implemented in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“The government of Ontario will not be in the business of running physical cannabis stores,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said. “Instead, we will work with private sector businesses to build a safe, reliable retail system that will divert sales away from the illegal market.”

Fedeli said municipalities will be able to opt out of hosting any cannabis shops initially.

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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

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