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AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT

October 29, 2017 - 6:06 PM

'Penance': NC congressman writes to families of dead troops

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — On a Sunday morning more than two weeks after four U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed in Niger, Rep. Walter Jones sat at the desk in his North Carolina office, doing what he's done more than 11,000 times in 14 years: signing letters to families of the dead troops.

"My heart aches as I write this letter for I realize you are suffering a great loss," the letter begins.

It's a form letter, but the Republican congressman signs each one personally — penance, he says, for voting yes for the Iraq war in 2002.

"For me, it's a sacred responsibility that I have to communicate my condolences to a family," Jones said in a telephone interview. "And it's very special to me because it goes back to my regretting that I voted to go into the Iraq war."

While President Donald Trump and his staff feuded publicly this month with a congresswoman and the pregnant widow of a soldier killed Oct. 4 in Niger, Jones was quietly continuing his letter writing.

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Trump comes ahead with fresh criticism of Russia inquiry

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump expressed renewed frustration Sunday over the investigations into alleged ties between his campaign associates and Russian government officials, saying on Twitter that the "facts are pouring out" about links to Russia by his former presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.

"DO SOMETHING!" Trump urged in one of five morning tweets.

Trump's tweets followed a CNN report late Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first charges in a criminal investigation into Russia ties led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The Associated Press has not confirmed the CNN report.

Ty Cobb, a member of Trump's legal team, said the president was not referring to CNN's reporting.

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It will be a tale of 2 countries as open enrolment begins

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Trump administration's efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act have health care advocates and insurers concerned that the open enrolment period will be one of chaos and confusion.

That's not true everywhere.

A dozen states operate their own health insurance marketplaces, maintaining control over advertising and the help they can offer consumers. That will create a striking difference when open enrolment begins Wednesday between those states and the others that rely on the federal marketplace, essentially creating a tale of two countries.

For the individual health insurance market in much of the country, the Trump administration has slashed spending on advertising by 90 per cent and drastically reduced budgets for the groups that help consumers choose a plan.

It cut the open enrolment period in half, to six weeks. Shortening the sign-up window further, the federal government will shut down its online marketplace, healthcare.gov, for 12 hours of maintenance nearly every Sunday during open enrolment.

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10 Things to Know for Monday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

1. WHO IS UNLEASHING NEW CRITICISM OF RUSSIA INQUIRY

President Donald Trump expresses renewed frustration over the investigations into alleged ties between his campaign associates and Russian government officials.

2. RALLY IN BARCELONA REJECTS CATALAN SECESSION BID

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans voice their opposition to the region's declaration of independence amid vast political uncertainty.

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Puerto Rico utility moves to scrap $300M Whitefish contract

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The head of Puerto Rico's power company said Sunday the agency is cancelling its $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid scrutiny of the tiny Montana company's role in restoring the island's power system.

The announcement by Ricardo Ramos came hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged the utility to scrap the deal for Whitefish's help in rebuilding the electrical system from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria.

"It's an enormous distraction," Ramos said of the controversy over the contract. "This was negatively impacting the work we're already doing."

The current work by Whitefish teams will not be affected by the cancellation and that work will be completed in November, Ramos said. He said the cancellation will delay pending work by 10 to 12 weeks if no alternatives are found.

Ramos said he had not talked with Whitefish executives about his announcement. "A lawsuit could be forthcoming," he warned.

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Full recovery from California wildfires may take years

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — It will take at least months and likely years to fully recover from devastating wildfires that ripped through Northern California earlier this month, destroying at least 8,900 structures and killing 42 people, Sonoma County officials said Saturday.

"We don't control these things, and it makes you realize how small you are in the world when something like this happens," Sheriff Rob Giordano said. "I don't think we understand the level at which it is going to impact lives, and the community will be different."

Giordano spoke before hundreds of people gathered at a college in Santa Rosa, one of the hardest-hit cities, for a memorial service to honour the lives lost in the deadliest series of wildfires in California history. The fires sparked Oct. 8, eventually forcing 100,000 people to evacuate.

Before a bell rung 42 times to commemorate the dead, Giordano and other officials praised the ordinary and extraordinary acts of heroism by first responders and community members as the firefight raged on for more than a week. Some firefighters worked days on the front line, refusing to take breaks, while sheriff's dispatchers continued taking calls even as the fire came close to taking out their building.

"The night of Oct. 8, we were all tested," Santa Rosa fire Chief Tony Gossner said.

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Their caliphate in ruins, IS militants melt into the desert

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants, routed from one urban stronghold after another in Syria, have recently been moving deeper into Syria's remote desert, where experts say they are regrouping and preparing their next incarnation.

The Sunni militants' self-proclaimed "caliphate" with its contiguous stretch of land — linking major cities such as Syria's Raqqa and Iraq's Mosul — may have been vanquished, but many agree this territorial defeat will not mark the end of IS.

Beyond the urban and inhabited areas lies the vast Syrian Desert, also known as Badiyat al-Sham, famous for its caves and rugged mountains. It encompasses about 500,000 square kilometres (200,000 square miles) across parts of southeastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq.

The desolate landscape is a perfect hideout and a second home for many IS militants from the days before the birth of their caliphate. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to mount search operations — and even more to put the desert under permanent control.

Once they melt into the desert, without an army of tens of thousands of supporters from dozens of countries, IS jihadis will resort to guerrilla-style attacks: scattered hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings.

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Why the explosive growth of e-commerce could mean more jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the robots came to online retailer Boxed, dread came, too: The familiar fear that the machines would take over, leaving a trail of unemployed humans in their wake.

"I had a lot of people asking me, 'What is going to happen to us?'" says Veronica Mena, a trainer for the e-commerce startup, recalling the anxiety that rippled through her co-workers after company executives announced plans to open an automated warehouse in nearby Union, New Jersey.

Yet their fears didn't come to pass.

When the new warehouse opened this spring, workers found that their jobs were less physically demanding than at the older, manual warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. Instead of walking thousands of steps a day loading items onto carts, employees could stand at stations as conveyor belts brought the goods to them.

And rather than cutting jobs, the company added a third shift to keep up with rapidly growing demand.

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Huge rally in Barcelona rejects Catalan secession bid

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to voice their opposition to the region's declaration of independence amid vast political uncertainty for the region in northeast Spain.

Catalonia's political leadership was fired Saturday by central authorities in Madrid who are trying to tame the worst political crisis Spain has seen in decades. So far, Catalan's former leader has insinuated that he won't step down.

Waving Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags, the protesters described themselves as the silent majority who have been ignored during the wealthy region's bid for independence, which came to a head Friday when the regional parliament voted to secede from Spain.

"We have organized ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced," said Alex Ramos, head of Catalan Civil Society, a pro-union grassroots group.

The organizers said more than 1 million people turned out but police put the figure at 300,000. There was no way to immediately reconcile the figures.

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Dodgers, Astros set lineups for Game 5 of World Series

HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Turner is moving to designated hitter in the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting lineup for Game 5 of the World Series while the Houston Astros are staying with the same batting order for the third straight game.

Turner took a grounder off a knee during Game 4, causing him to limp later in the game. After Turner walked in the ninth and took third on Cody Bellinger's double, Charlie Culberson pinch run for him.

Logan Forsythe moves from second to third Sunday night and Culberson takes over at second. Joc Pederson, who had been the DH the previous two games, is dropped.

Centre fielder Chris Taylor leads off, followed by shortstop Corey Seager, Turner, left fielder Enrique Hernandez, Bellinger at first, Forsythe, right fielder Yasiel Puig, catcher Austin Barnes and Culberson. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw is on the mound.

Centre fielder George Springer tops the Astros' order, followed by third baseman Alex Bregman, second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, right fielder Josh Reddick, designated hitter Evan Gattis, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez and catcher Brian McCann. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel is on the mound.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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