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Nation and World briefs for September 14

High school shooting in Washington state kills 1, injures 3

ROCKFORD, Wash. (AP) — A shooter opened fire at a high school in a tiny town in Washington state Wednesday, killing one student, injuring three others and sending worried parents to the school in a frenzied rush, authorities said.

Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department told reporters that one child died at Freeman High School in Rockford, south of Spokane, while three injured victims were taken to a hospital and expected to survive.

“The shooter has been apprehended and is taken into custody,” he said.

Michael Harper, 15, a sophomore at the school, told The Associated Press that the suspect was a classmate who had long been obsessed with past school shootings.

Harper said the suspect had brought notes to Freeman High in the beginning of the year, saying he might get killed or jailed and that some students alerted counselors.

8 die at Florida nursing home in Irma’s sweltering aftermath

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning, raising fears Wednesday about the safety of Florida’s 4 million senior citizens amid power outages that could go on for days.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: “The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation.”

Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida emergency workers to immediately check on nursing homes to make sure patients are safe, and he vowed to punish anyone found culpable in the deaths.

“This situation is unfathomable,” he said.

The home said in a statement that the hurricane had knocked out a transformer that powered the AC.

Study prompts call to examine flu vaccine and miscarriage

NEW YORK (AP) — A puzzling study of U.S. pregnancies found that women who had miscarriages between 2010 and 2012 were more likely to have had back-to-back annual flu shots that included protection against swine flu.

Vaccine experts think the results may reflect the older age and other miscarriage risks for the women, and not the flu shots. Health officials say there is no reason to change the government recommendation that all pregnant women be vaccinated against the flu. They say the flu itself is a much greater danger to women and their fetuses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reached out to a doctor’s group, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, to warn them the study is coming out and help them prepare for a potential wave of worry from expectant moms, CDC officials said.

“I want the CDC and researchers to continue to investigate this,” said Dr. Laura Riley, a Boston-based obstetrician who leads a committee on maternal immunization. “But as an advocate for pregnant women, what I hope doesn’t happen is that people panic and stop getting vaccinated.”

Past studies have found flu vaccines are safe during pregnancy, though there’s been little research on impact of flu vaccinations given in the first three months of pregnancy.

US Virgin Islands getting aid, but still reeling from Irma

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — The last of the late-summer tourists were gone Wednesday from the U.S. Virgin Islands, ferried away from the wreckage of Hurricane Irma in cruise ships bound for Puerto Rico and Miami. Most part-time residents — and anyone else who didn’t have to stay — had cleared out as well, back to homes on the mainland with water, power and Internet, and where food isn’t scarce.

Those left behind on St. Thomas and St. John were surviving on whatever they could find as they tried to repair or secure their houses with whatever materials were available. They had to dodge downed power lines that snaked through hills that were a deep green before the storm but had been so stripped of leaves and trees that they were brown and desolate. Many were surviving on military rations handed out by U.S. Marines and the National Guard or at a local church that was serving 500 people per day.

“What I see are people coming who are hungry, who are tired, who are thirsty and need help,” said the Rev. Jeff Neevel, the pastor of the St. Thomas Reformed Church in the Virgin Islands capital, Charlotte Amalie. “It’s a destruction zone. Everything is destroyed. Everything.”

His church got power Tuesday for the first time since the storm hit a week earlier, thanks to the fact that it had been designated an official food distribution center. Neevel said one of the most critical needs he sees was for tarps to protect the many homes that had lost roofs. People were also desperate for power and water so they could get back to work and return to some sense of normalcy.

“The village where I live is devastated,” said Dominique Olive, a 63-year-old from French Town, along St. Thomas’ southern coast. “There are people I’ve known for many, many years. Everything they have is gone.”

Netanyahu says Israel endorses independence for Kurds

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s leader on Wednesday said his country supports Kurdish independence ahead of a key referendum on the matter.

In an announcement early Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel considers the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terrorist organization. But the statement said Israel “supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own.”

Netanyahu’s statement appeared to be an attempt to distance Israel from comments by Yair Golan, who recently completed a term as Israel’s deputy military chief of staff.

At a conference in Washington last week, Golan said he did not consider the PKK, a militant group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey, to be a terrorist organization. But he also voiced support for Kurdish independence, saying a “solid stable cohesive Kurdish entity” somewhere in the volatile Middle East is “not a bad idea.”

He did not specify where he thinks it could be located. The Kurds are spread across the region, with large populations in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the referendum on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their self-ruled region as well as disputed areas that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

The vote is nonbinding, but Kurdish officials hope a strong victory will kick-start negotiations with the Baghdad government on independence. That seems unlikely, since there is no legal requirement or incentive for Baghdad to do so.

Ryan opens door to tax cuts adding to deficit

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan backed off months of promises that the Republicans’ tax plan won’t add to the nation’s ballooning deficit, declaring Wednesday in an AP Newsmaker interview that the most important goal of an overhaul is economic growth.

Asked twice whether he would insist the emerging tax plan won’t pile more billions onto the $20 trillion national debt, Ryan passed up the chance to affirm that commitment. GOP leaders made that “revenue neutral” promise in a campaign manifesto last year and many times since.

“We want pro-growth tax reform that will get the economy going, that will get people back to work, that will give middle-income taxpayers a tax cut and that will put American businesses in a better competitive playing field so that we keep American businesses in America,” the Wisconsin Republican told Associated Press reporters and editors. “That is more important than anything else.”

Ryan’s comments signaling possible retreat on a core GOP commitment came amid quickening action on taxes, which Republicans view as their last, best chance to notch a significant accomplishment to take to voters in the 2018 midterm elections following the collapse of their “Obamacare” repeal drive. Yet even as President Donald Trump hunted for Democratic votes for a plan that’s not yet taken shape, and GOP leaders laid out an aggressive timetable to lawmakers, significant hurdles remained.

A major one is the GOP’s failure, thus far, to pass a federal budget, which under legislative rules is a prerequisite for a tax plan that can avoid being stalled to death by Democrats in the Senate.

US agencies ordered to stop using Russian company’s software

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. on Wednesday banned federal agencies from using computer software supplied by Kaspersky Lab because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Kremlin and Russian spy operations.

The directive issued by acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke comes as various U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and several congressional committees are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Kaspersky said in a statement that it was disappointed by the directive and insisted “it does not have unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia.”

Duke directed all U.S. federal agencies and departments to stop using products or services supplied directly or indirectly by the Russian-owned and operated company. The directive gives agencies 30 days to determine whether they are using any Kaspersky products. The software must be removed from all information systems within 90 days.

“The department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies,” the directive said. It said the department also is concerned about Russian laws that would permit Russian spy agencies to compel Kaspersky to provide assistance or intercept communications transiting Russian networks.

Top Dems say Flynn left Mideast trip off security clearance

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn faced new questions about a 2015 trip he took to the Middle East as part of a private proposal to build nuclear power plants across the region.

Two top Democrats said in a letter released Wednesday that he appeared to have violated federal law by failing to report the trip when he renewed his security clearance last year. The lawmakers — Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York — also said documents turned over to their staff suggested that Flynn also failed to report contacts with Israeli and Egyptian government officials.

The information released by the lawmakers was fresh evidence that Flynn didn’t fully account for his foreign contacts and business entanglements even though he was liable for possible federal criminal penalties for lying or omitting such information. Security clearance questionnaires specifically ask applicants to report any meetings abroad or contacts with foreign government officials that occurred in the previous seven years. As a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn maintained a security clearance. His last renewal was in early 2016.

Flynn has been dogged by questions about his lack of disclosure of a Turkish lobbying operation and of foreign payments he accepted after leaving the military in 2014. Flynn also was forced to resign his Trump administration post in February after White House officials determined that he had misled them about the nature of diplomatic conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing Flynn’s foreign interactions as part of his probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with Trump associates. Earlier this year, that investigation incorporated an ongoing federal probe into Flynn’s Turkish lobbying.

 

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