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Joe Biden and Ukraine gaffe now comes at expense of U.S. troops

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Joe Biden and Ukraine gaffe now comes at expense of U.S. troops

President Biden is still trying to clean up his gaffe-prone press conference over Russia and Ukraine but now he’s doing it with American lives on the line.

The administration announced Monday it was putting 8.500 troops on “heightened alert” — whatever that means — in preparation for possible deployment in Eastern Europe and to respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The troops would be deployed as a deterrent and would not be part of a defending force in Ukraine, according to the administration.

Sure. It’s still a big risk.

This comes just months after Biden removed the last remaining troops and civilians from Afghanistan after a botched withdrawal plan led to chaos and cost untold Afghan lives.

It’s clear now this administration’s reactive policies are a disaster and it’s a major reason why Joe Biden’s one of the most unpopular presidents in history.

The decision to put U.S. troops on alert seems a reaction to Biden’s comments last week at his marathon press conference in which he mistakenly opened the door to a “minor incursion” of Ukraine by Russia.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and what not to do,” Biden said in remarks that administration officials hours later walked back because it appeared to give the impression that the U.S. and NATO would not respond forcefully to such a “minor” invasion.

Ukraine officials were outraged by Biden’s remarks and demanded he retract them.

Over the weekend after meeting with his military officials at Camp David, Biden formulated the latest response to Russia military advancements on Ukraine — and it’s clear the world can’t afford another Biden foreign policy mistake.

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Nestor Cortes deletes his Twitter account after old tweets surface: ‘It’s not who I am’

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Nestor Cortes deletes his Twitter account after old tweets surface: ‘It’s not who I am’

BALTIMORE — After taking over as the American League ERA leader on Sunday, Nestor Cortes took down his Twitter account. While the 27-year-old was on the mound in Chicago, fans had combed through his social media accounts and found Tweets and Instagram posts from 2012-2015 where he used a racial slur. Some of his tweets appeared to be quoting from rap lyrics.

Cortes took responsibility Monday.

“I hate myself for having done that, it’s not who I am or want to be,” Cortes said. “I found out about it [the social media posts going viral], I sought out help on how to handle it and I am taking a break so that going forward I can use [social media] in the right way. I want to have a good message, especially for kids.”

While Cortes was mowing down the White Sox Sunday, fans of a Yankees rival found the tweets and social media posts and put them together. At the time of the posts, Cortes would have between 17 and 20 years old.

“I didn’t know how it happened, but it doesn’t matter,” Cortes said. “I shouldn’t have done it. I don’t want it out there now. I want to use my [social media platform] to give a positive message to fans and especially to kids out there.”

Cortes has been the Yankees’ best pitcher this season, posting a 1.35 ERA through his first seven starts this season.

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Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground

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Here’s the $8 billion worth of topics where Minnesota lawmakers need to find common ground

Minnesota lawmakers need to act fast to find $8 billion worth of bipartisan compromises after leading lawmakers announced a supplemental budget framework Monday.

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and House Speaker Melissa Hortman set broad parameters on how lawmakers can spend $8 billion over the next three years. But they left most of the details to members of bipartisan joint committees formed after the House and Senate approved starting positions over the last few weeks.

If the leaders of these so-called conference committees get stuck — on how to allocate money for tax cuts, education, health and human services, public safety, infrastructure projects and other spending — legislative leaders will step in.

“It is going to be tough work. It is going to be around the clock up here,” Walz said at a Monday morning news conference on the Capitol lawn. “They are going to have to reach some compromises.”

In past years, top lawmakers have faced criticism for making last minute budget decisions behind closed doors. Leaders suggested this year the process would be more transparent.

“I don’t think anybody wants just three or four people making these final decisions,” said Sen. Miller, R-Winona. “We’ve heard that loud and clear. We set the framework with some high-level parameters for the conference committees.”

Top Democrats and Republicans both demurred when asked about further specifics of the deal they struck over the weekend and announced Monday. The new spending comes from a $9.25 billion budget surplus and future tax collections that are expected to remain above government forecasts.

“We have people on these conference committees who are subject matter experts,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “They know what can move around in bills to accommodate as many priorities as possible.”

Miller added that lawmakers should: “focus on the areas of agreement. There is not much time to get this done before the end of session.”

Time is a significant hurdle, lawmakers say the more complex bills will need to be agreed to by Wednesday in order for the Office of the Revisor to draft and check legislation.

It’s important to note that, despite the sweeping deal, the state budget doesn’t have to change. The current spending plan expires June 2023.

Here are the top issues included in Monday’s deal:

TAXES

The historic $9.25 billion budget surplus announced earlier this year is mostly due to larger than expected income, corporate and sales taxes. Tax collections also continue to come in higher than forecast, but there is significant caution about the state of the economy.

The budget deal allocates $4 billion for tax reductions over the next three years with $1.4 billion spent next year and $2.4 billion in the 2023-24 budget. That suggests the ongoing impact would lower revenues by about $1.2 billion a year going forward.

Republicans want to cut the first tier income tax that now stands at 5.35 percent. Democrats want credits and write-offs for low- and middle-income families and Walz has pushed for rebate checks to taxpayers.

Both parties support lowering taxes on Social Security benefits.

EDUCATION

School spending will grow by $1 billion over the next three years under the agreement. The commitment comes after lawmakers increased the education budget by about $1 billion last year.

Democrats have pushed for spending new money on student supports with a big focus on mental health. Many students continue to struggle after two years of the coronavirus pandemic — when schools faced closures and many were forced to learn remotely.

Republicans say they want to focus on improving student literacy. They fear the state is losing ground after recent proficiency tests showed a little more than half of students met reading standards.

School districts have lobbied lawmakers for years to increase funding for special education services, which are mandated by the state and federal government, but not fully funded. They’ve also asked for more money for student supports, including for those learning English.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Lawmakers committed $450 million over the next three years in new spending for public safety and the judiciary.

There’s already bipartisan support for pay raises for court workers and public defenders. Lawmakers also want to spend money on recruiting and retaining police officers and to help departments purchase body cameras.

Big differences remain on how to make policing more equitable and how respond to rising crime rates. Republicans want stiffer penalties, while Democrats think solutions need to address root causes of crime.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

About $1 billion of the budget surplus will be used over the next three years to continue the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Minnesota faces a dire staffing crisis of both medical workers and workers in long-term care.

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed using state money to raise the wages of long-term care workers, personal care attendants and those who care for people with disabilities.

Long-term care advocates said last week there are more than 23,000 open positions statewide. About 40 nursing homes and 400 assisted living facilities risk closure if their financial situations do not improve.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Walz and legislative leaders have agreed to spend $1.5 billion on capital improvement projects under the budget bill, but so far they haven’t said what projects they will fund. About $1.4 billion will be in state borrowing and $150 million will come from the surplus.

The agreed-to amount would only cover about one-fourth of the $5.5 billion that state agencies and cities, counties and townships requested this year. Walz proposed a $2.7 billion package of land and building improvements in January.

Neither the House nor the Senate has unveiled what is commonly called a “bonding bill” so far this year.

House Capital Investment Committee Chair Fue Lee of Minneapolis said House DFLers could support an even more “robust” public infrastructure bill than Walz proposed, but Senate bonding committee Chair Tom Bakk, an independent from Cook, said he plans to focus on repairing and maintaining the state’s existing buildings and lands. “Let’s fix what we own,” he said, not new buildings.

For local governments, Bakk said he favors funding sewer and water projects, and roads and bridges.

OTHER SPENDING

About $1.3 billion of the budget deal will go toward other supplemental spending over the next three years. Legislative leaders did not provide specifics on how that money would be allocated.

There are a long list of priorities debated during this legislative session that were not mentioned by top lawmakers Monday when they laid out their plans. They include things like paid leave, lowering health care costs, aid for farmers, environmental protections and others.

The plans also leave a significant amount on the bottom-line for the next Legislature to allocate. State officials project a $4 billion surplus during the 2023-24 biennium if tax collections continue to outpace estimates.

Time is short to find agreement on the details of the deal announced Monday. The Legislature must adjourn next Monday and Walz has said he doesn’t want to call lawmakers back for a special session.

The Democratic governor expressed optimism the work could get done in the time allowed, but acknowledged there would be “some hard decisions.”

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

By ZEKE MILLER and MATTHEW PERRONE

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials on Monday reached an agreement to allow baby formula maker Abbott to restart its largest domestic factory, though it will be two months or more before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the national shortage facing parents.

Under the agreement, Abbott must work with outside experts to upgrade its standards and reduce bacterial contamination at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility, which the Food and Drug Administration has been investigating since early this year. The deal, which must be reviewed by a federal judge, amounts to a legally binding agreement between the FDA and the company on steps needed to reopen the factory.

The agreement was filed in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the FDA.

After production resumes, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing, which must be cleared with the FDA.

The FDA is expected to announce additional steps Monday evening to allow more foreign imports into the U.S. to address the supply problems. It comes as the administration of President Joe Biden faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks.

Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny in January when the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died.

In February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit.

Outrage over the issue has quickly snowballed and handed Republicans a fresh talking point to use against Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce roughly 90% of U.S. formula, and its brands account for nearly half that market.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from the babies by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated it is ready to resume manufacturing, pending an FDA decision.

Former FDA officials say fixing the type of problems uncovered at Abbott’s plant takes time, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told ABC News that an announcement was forthcoming about importing baby formula from abroad. The key issue is making sure the instructions for the formula are in languages that mothers and caregivers can understand, he noted.

Pediatricians say baby formulas produced in Canada and Europe are roughly equivalent to those in the U.S. But traditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the U.S. is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the U.S. face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

San Diego father Steven Hyde has faced heart-wrenching challenges finding formula for his medical fragile daughter, who was on an Abbott formula but has had to switch with the recall and subsequent shortages in other brands.

Zoie Hyde was born 19 months ago with no kidneys, a rare life-threatening condition that requires dialysis and a feeding tube until she weighs enough for a kidney transplant.

Hyde said he used an organic brand from overseas until costs and customs hurdles made that too difficult. Friends and strangers from out of state have sent him other brands, but each time she switches requires more blood tests and monitoring, Davis said.

Despite her challenges, Zoie is walking, talking and “doing pretty good’ on other developmental milestones, Davis said.

“She’s a shining light in my life,’ he said.

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this story from Three Oaks, Michigan.

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