It’s Thursday May 18, 2017



Making good on a campaign promise, the Trump administration is informing Congress that it intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer has sent a letter to congressional leaders, starting 90 days of consultations with lawmakers over how to revamp the pact. Talks with Canada and Mexico can begin after that. During the campaign, Donald Trump called NAFTA "a disaster." Last month, White House aides spread word that President Trump was ready to pull out of the agreement. Within hours, the president reversed course, saying he'd seek a better deal first. Lighthizer says, "We are going to give renegotiation a good strong shot," noting that the 23-year-old agreement needs to better protect American factory workers and to reflect new technologies.



The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into possible ties between President Trump's campaign and Russian officials. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the decision he after pressure for an independent investigation grew louder on Capitol Hill due to a series of unexpected revelations. First, Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, then news reports, citing a memo written by Comey, said that Trump had asked Comey in February to drop the investigation into the Russia ties of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Rosenstein said his decision did not mean he had determined that crimes had been committed, but that the public interest "requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command." Trump responded by saying that "a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know - there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."



NATO's chief says members are discussing whether to join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group but insists the alliance will not deploy combat troops. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that "no decision has been taken. The discussion is going on." He told reporters in Brussels that it "is absolutely out of the question for NATO to go into combat operations." President Trump is expected to pressure NATO to do more to fight extremists in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan when he meets his allied counterparts in Brussels on May 25. NATO supports the coalition with training and aerial surveillance. But members do not want NATO fighting Islamic State, even though all are also individual members of the anti-IS coalition.



Arrests of suspected illegal immigrants increased by nearly 40 percent in President Trump's first 100 days, according to government data released on Wednesday. Trump issued executive orders directing immigration officials to target a broader range of people with immigration violations. The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -ICE- Thomas Homan, said the agency arrested 41,318 people between Jan. 22 and the end of April, up from 30,028 in a similar period last year. Nearly two thirds had criminal convictions, but the number of people arrested with no past convictions rose to 10,800 in Trump's first 100 days, up from 4,200 in the same period last year, a 150 percent increase, although Homan noted that crossing the border illegally is a "criminal act."



An Oklahoma jury on Wednesday acquitted Betty Shelby, a white Tulsa police officer, in the fatal 2016 shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. The verdict sparked renewed protests, with dozens of people chanting "No justice, no peace, no racist police" outside the courthouse. Crutcher's father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, said, "Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder." The case attracted national attention and protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. Shelby said she had ordered Crutcher to lie on the ground, and fired fearing for her own safety when he failed to do as she said he reached into his vehicle for what she thought was a gun.



Meteorologists are predicting a major tornado outbreak in parts of the Southern Plains on Thursday, the latest in a stormy week that has raked the country's midsection and left two people dead. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, is classifying Thursday's storm chances at 'high' in parts of Oklahoma and Kansas - the most severe risk category. The forecast bull's-eye of the storm includes Wichita, Kansas, and rural areas of southern Kansas and western Oklahoma. Forecasters say the storms could bring "strong, large, long-track tornadoes" in central and southern Kansas into western Oklahoma along with baseball-sized hail. More storms are possible later in the day in the lower Great Lakes region. Storms have battered Southern Plains and Midwestern states all week, with deaths reported Tuesday in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.



The World Health Organization says officials are tracing more than 400 contacts amid an Ebola outbreak in Congo that has been blamed for at least three deaths. Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program, said Thursday that a 39-year-old man is believed to be the first casualty. A motorcyclist transporting him and the man's caregiver also died. There are currently 17 other suspected cases in Likati, which is in one of the most remote areas of Congo. This Ebola outbreak is the eighth to hit Congo since 1976. The most recent came during the separate epidemic in West Africa in 2014. Since then an experimental vaccine has proven highly effective, but quantities are limited and there is still no specific treatment for the hemorrhagic fever.



General Motors is beating a retreat from one of the world's hottest car markets. GM said Thursday it will stop selling its cars in India by the end of this year, following a "comprehensive review" of plans for the country. Just two years ago, GM said it would pour $1 billion into its India operations. That plan has been scrapped as part of a bigger rethink of global operations. GM said it will continue using the country as an export hub with vehicles made at the firm's plant near Mumbai, exported primarily to Mexico, South America and Central America.



Facebook has been fined $122 million for misleading European officials about its takeover of WhatsApp. As part of a regulatory review of the merger, Facebook told the European Commission in 2014 that it would not be able to match up existing user profiles with WhatsApp phone numbers. Two years later it did exactly that. The European Commission said Thursday that Facebook staff knew at the time of the review that it was technically possible. It's the first time Europe's antitrust agency has fined a company for providing misleading information about a takeover. But it won't have an impact on the deal, which was completed in October 2014. Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, by far its largest acquisition ever. Using the messaging app's data allows Facebook to target its ads better, boosting profits. Facebook said it had made an honest mistake.



Roger Ailes, who transformed TV news by creating the Fox News Channel, only to be ousted at the height of his reign for alleged sexual harassment, died Thursday. He was 77. A former GOP operative to candidates including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Ailes later turned his media savvy to running TV networks. In early 1996 he accepted a challenge from media titan Rupert Murdoch to build a news network from scratch to compete with CNN. That October, Ailes flipped the switch on Fox News Channel. It became the audience leader in cable news. It also emerged as a powerful force on the political scene, while the feisty, hard-charging Ailes swatted off criticism that the network he branded as "Fair and Balanced" had a conservative tilt. He was abruptly dismissed from Fox News in July 2016 in the wake of a lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson accusing Ailes of sexual improprieties.



Detroit police say the death of rocker Chris Cornell, the lead singer of the bands Soundgarden and later Audioslave, is being investigated as a possible suicide. A police spokesman said he can't provide details on what led investigators to make that determination, but noted there were "basic things observed at the scene." Cornell died at the MGM Grand Detroit hotel. Cornell's wife called a family friend and asked him to check on Cornell. The friend forced open a hotel room door and found Cornell on the bathroom floor. The 52-year-old Cornell was on tour and performed Wednesday night in Detroit with Soundgarden. The Wayne County Medical Examiner's office will make an official determination about the cause of death. Cornell was a key figure in the Seattle grunge scene in 1984 when he founded Soundgarden, which some see as the first band from the area to land a major record deal because Soundgarden joined A&M Records in 1989, two years before Nirvana's breakthrough Never Mind was released. Soundgarden followed with its first major hit album Superunknown, which launched in March 1994 at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart.



And finally we have yet another candidate who has qualified for a Darwin award. Authorities say a Florida man leaned in to kiss a rattlesnake - but got bitten instead. News outlets report the unidentified man was bitten on the tongue Tuesday in the Bostwick area and had to be airlifted to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. A friend of the victim said the man had been drinking while handling the seemingly calm eastern diamondback. But when he moved toward the reptile as if to kiss it, the snake bit him. It's wasn't immediately clear where the snake came from. It's illegal to keep a rattlesnake in Florida without a license.

It’s Wednesday May 17, 2017



The intelligence behind plans to broaden a U.S. ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from Europe took center stage on Wednesday as American and European officials met to discuss the looming decision. The White House has defended the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss with Russian officials an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.



National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Tuesday that President Trump's sharing of highly classified intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was "wholly appropriate" in the context of their conversation about cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State. McMaster repeated his assertion that Trump did not expose any intelligence sources or methods. The information came from an ally - reportedly Israel - but divulging it to Russia's top diplomat was "consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he's engaged," McMaster said. Critics from both parties have said Trump's willingness to pass on secrets to a sometimes hostile nation could discourage allies from sharing intelligence information in the future. Trump said he had the right to share the information, and did it to encourage Russia to cooperate in fighting ISIS.



Syria on Tuesday denied a claim by the State Department that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had built a crematorium at an infamous military prison to cover up executions by burning bodies. Syria called the allegations "lies" and "fabrications," likening them to a "new Hollywood plot" to justify a U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war. The State Department said Monday that it believes the Syrian regime is hanging about 50 detainees per day at the Saydnaya military prison near Damascus.



The New York Times is reporting that President Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey in February to shut down the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, urging Comey to focus on tracking down people who had leaked information to journalists. Trump told Comey, "I hope you can let this go," according to a memo Comey wrote about the meeting, his associates said. The report fueled suspicions among Trump's critics that he has tried to stifle investigations into possible links between his associates and Russia. The White House denied that Trump had asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, responded by demanding that the FBI provide all "memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings" between Trump and Comey.



French President Emmanuel Macron's first government of 18 Cabinet ministers includes a mix of experienced politicians and newcomers from civil society. Half of the appointees announced Wednesday are men and half are women. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whom Macron named on Monday, will lead the government, at least until the parliamentary elections scheduled for June. Philippe and Macron chose experienced politicians from the left, the center and the right for the main positions. Socialist Jean-Yves Le Drian was named foreign minister and prominent centrist Francois Bayrou as justice minister. Another centrist, Sylvie Goulard, will lead the Defense Ministry, while Socialist Gerard Collomb will head the Interior Ministry. High-profile conservative Bruno Le Maire was the pick for the Finance Ministry. Other positions were filled by ministers from civil society. Nicolas Hulot, the well-known host of a television show focusing on nature and the environment, was named minister for environment transition.



Transgender Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning says she's uncertain where her life will take her after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government materials to WikiLeaks. Manning said in a statement Wednesday that "whatever is ahead ... is far more important than the past," and that she's "figuring things out right now." The statement was emailed just hours after her release from a military prison in Kansas. Minutes later, she tweeted a photo of her feet in tennis shoes, with the caption: "First steps of freedom!!" Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before she transitioned in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations. Former President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in January before he left the White House.



Two people have died and dozens are injured after tornadoes flattened a mobile home park in Wisconsin and a housing subdivision in Oklahoma during powerful spring storms that battered an area from the South Plains of Texas to the Great Lakes. The storms hit late in the afternoon Tuesday and into the evening, leveling the Prairie Lake Estate Mobile Park near Chetek, Wisconsin. A tornado hit a subdivision on the southern fringe of Elk City, Oklahoma.



The city of New Orleans says it has begun taking down a monument to Gen. P.G.T Beauregard - the third of four Confederate-era monuments to be removed from the city in recent weeks. The announcement comes after the city had already taken down a statue of the Confederacy's only president and a memorial to a white rebellion against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu first proposed removing the monuments in 2015, and the City Council approved the move that year. But the process was stuck in legal limbo for over a year as supporters fought to keep them up. Supporters say removing the monuments is akin to erasing history. Those calling for their removal say they glorify a shameful part of the city and country's history.



In Mexico federal and state authorities say they have disarmed local police infiltrated by organized crime in the Pacific coast tourist destination of Zihuatanejo. Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez says that authorities arrested three police officers on Tuesday tied to organized crime. Authorities also disarmed 42 men who were uniformed and carrying weapons, but weren't accredited police officers. An additional 15 officers who had failed confidence tests were also found to still be armed. Alvarez says that the army and state police will take over public safety duties in the city until the entire police force can be investigated.



German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that if Britain restricts immigration from European Union countries in the future, that will have "its price." Britain and the EU are preparing for negotiations on Britain's departure. Prime Minister Theresa May insists that Britain must leave the bloc's single market in order to control immigration. Merkel said at an event with labor union officials in Berlin on Wednesday that "if the British government says that free movement of people is no longer valid, that will have its price in relations with Britain." She added that "this isn't malicious" but if Britain, for example, says that only 100,000 or 200,000 EU citizens are allowed into the country, "we would have to think about what obstacle we create from the European side to compensate for that."



Ford Motor Co. plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried jobs in North America and Asia Pacific this year in an effort to boost profits. The company says it will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to its workers. It expects 1,400 positions to be affected by the end of September. Ford says its European and South American operations have already cut workers and won't be affected. Ford's stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent over the last three years as investors worry that U.S. sales are peaking. Ford is also spending heavily on future technology, like self-driving and fully electric cars.



Two more retired football stars have pledged their brains to research. Two-time Super Bowl champion Leonard Marshall and three-time Pro Bowl selection and former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck say they will donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The announcements were made on Wednesday as part of the second annual Brain Trust conference, which is hosted by the Veterans Administration. Marshall says he already has short-term memory loss and erratic behavior. The former New York Giants defensive lineman is 55. Hasselbeck's father, Don, was a teammate of Marshall's on the Giants and pledged his brain to the foundation back in 2010. More than 1,800 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research. The progressive degenerative brain disease has been linked to repeated head trauma, but cannot be diagnosed while a patient is alive.



What did a South Florida woman do when she lifted the lid on her toilet and found an iguana inside? She closed it again and called 911. Lt. Scott Mullin of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom One unit tells the Miami Herald it's the first time he's found an iguana in a toilet. Mullin says when the call came in Tuesday night, he asked the dispatcher to make sure it was an iguana and not a snake. He says the woman, her daughter and grandchildren were waiting when he arrived at their home in West Kendall, south of Miami. Mullin says the lizard likely came up through the pipes. Mullin used gloves to lift the iguana from the bowl, put it in a box and drove it to a wildlife rescue center.

It’s Tuesday May 16, 2017



It's Tuesday May 16th, 2017 and there is no podcast today. 
Sorry for the inconvenience. I'm taking a couple of vacation days
The podcast returns tomorrow morning May 17th.
I'm Larry Rice and I hope you have a great day.

It’s Monday May 15, 2017



It's Monday May 15th, 2017 and there is no podcast for today or tomorrow.
Sorry for the inconvenience. I'm taking a couple of vacation days
The podcast returns Wednesday morning May 17th.
I'm Larry Rice and I hope you have a great day.

It’s Friday May 12, 2017



Top finance officials from the Group of 7 advanced economies have gathered to hear about President Donald Trump's economic policies. They'll also look for ways to promote growth and combat terrorist financing and tax avoidance by major corporations. The meeting in the southern Italian seaside town of Bari is to kick off Friday with a discussion of how to make economic growth benefit more people. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is due to explain Trump's plans to cut business taxes and regulation, and explain Trump's push for what he considers more balanced trading relationships. The meeting prepares the way for a summit of leaders in Taormina, Italy, on May 25-26. The G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the U.S., and U.K., with the EU also attending the meeting.



Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the agency considered its investigation into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election "highly significant," and that rank-and-file FBI agents held former Director James Comey in high regard. Both statements directly contradicted claims by aides to President Trump, who unexpectedly fired Comey this week, who said that the FBI did not consider the Russia inquiry a priority, and that Comey had lost the respect of his employees. McCabe said the bureau had not been pressured by the White House to drop the investigation, saying, "You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution." Meanwhile President Trump is contradicting previous White House explanations for the firing of Comey as FBI director. Trump says in an interview with NBC News that he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of the recommendations of top Justice Department officials. Initially the White House cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey's handling of last year's investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails as the impetus for Trump's decision. In the NBC interview, Trump derided Comey as a "showboat" and "grandstander" and said Comey had left the FBI in "virtual turmoil."



Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE - said Thursday that it had arrested 1,378 people in the biggest nationwide anti-gang crackdown in its history. The arrests capped a six-week initiative effort by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit and other law enforcement agencies. ICE is better known for its immigration section, but its HSI arm routinely arrests U.S. citizens as it enforces a broad range of federal laws including child exploitation, human smuggling, and drug and weapons trafficking in the U.S. and overseas. ICE acting Director Thomas D. Homan said, "Let me be clear that these violent criminal street gangs are the biggest threat facing our communities... we are not done."



Federal authorities on Thursday raided the Annapolis, Maryland, office of a Republican political consulting firm that was sued in 2014 for alleged fundraising fraud. The firm, Strategic Campaign Group, worked with Republican candidates from the local to national level, helping them with mail, fundraising, and town hall meetings. Six FBI agents went into the consultancy's office and collected computer files and documents. The firm's president, Kelley Rogers, said the agents appeared to focus on documents linked to former Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's 2013 gubernatorial campaign.



Corrine Brown, a Democrat who represented her Jacksonville, Florida, district in Congress for more than two decades, was found guilty Thursday of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a charity to spend on parties, trips, and shopping outings. Prosecutors said Brown, who is 70, took the money from the 'One Door for Education Foundation', a charity that claimed it provided scholarships to poor students. Brown was convicted on 18 of 22 charges, which included lying on her taxes. Defense lawyer James Smith said he respected, but disagreed, with the jury's decision, and planned to ask for a new trial, saying, "this is just part one."



Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling the nation's federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects. That is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms by triggering mandatory minimum sentences. Sessions announced the move in a policy memo sent to U.S. attorneys. It's long been expected from the former prosecutor who has made fighting violent crime the Justice Department's priority. The change undoes Obama administration policies aimed at easing prison overcrowding and showing leniency for lower-level drug offenders. Critics of the shift say it will revive the worst aspects of the drug war. But Sessions has said a spike in violence in some big cities shows the need for a return to tougher tactics.



Authorities in the Philippines have rescued four girls and arrested a mother and two other women for allegedly livestreaming sexually exploitative videos of children to men paying by the minute to watch from the United States. Three sisters ages 8, 9 and 12, and an 11-year-old found in a separate rescue, are now in a shelter for abused children while the women face prosecution. The arrests came just two weeks after Filipino authorities raided the home of an American man suspected of similar cybersex crimes. Agents from the National Bureau of Investigation rescued two girls and made one of the largest seizures of illicit digital content in the Philippines. The suspect has denied wrongdoing.



The Mormon church announced that it was drastically loosening its ties with the Boy Scouts of America, removing up to 185,000 older teenagers from the organization as it starts its own scout-style program. The church said it wasn't making the change due to the Boy Scouts' 2015 decision to allow gay troop leaders, because it remains free to exclude gay adults on religious grounds. Still, at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts' evolving policies on gays probably was a factor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest sponsor of Scout troops in the U.S.



China will seek to polish President Xi Jinping's stature as a statesman at a gathering centered on his signature foreign policy effort envisioning a future world order in which all roads lead to Beijing. The "Belt and Road Forum" opening Sunday is the latest high-profile appearance by Xi aimed at projecting his influence on the global stage ahead of a key ruling Communist Party congress later this year. All feed a fundamental yearning among ordinary Chinese: to see their country's prestige and status rise. Attendees will include Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, but Western nations are largely sending lower-level officials. That's partly because of domestic situations, but also reflects concerns that China may be exporting its own ideas of governance, while indebting poor countries.



Pope Francis and pilgrims from around the world are flocking to a Catholic shrine town in Portugal to honor two poor, illiterate shepherd children whose visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago marked one of the most important events of the 20th-century Catholic Church. Francis arrives Friday in the town of Fatima to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions and canonize the children. He is hoping the message of peace that they reported 100 years ago, when Europe was in the throes of World War I, will resonate in the present day. Francis' deputy, Cardial Pietro Parolin, said the importance of Fatima lies specifically in the fact that poor, illiterate children were able to convey a powerful message of love and forgiveness at a time of war when "the talk was of hatred, vendetta, hostilities."



A Marine in full combat gear moves through dark, frigid water, gripping an M-16 rifle, then plunges under barbed wire and through a submerged drainage pipe. It is a familiar scene for anyone who has watched television commercials. Only in this advertisement, the Marine is a woman. It is only as the scenes flash by, and the Marine shouts an order over the sounds of explosions, does the historical nature of the new advertisement become clear. The Marine Corps is struggling with the perception that it is the least welcoming of women among the military services. But it is seeking more recruits for the "few, the proud," particularly athletes who could meet the tough physical standards required.



A group of major candy companies announced that they would collaborate over the next five years to slash the amount of sugar and calories in packaged sweets. Mars Chocolate, Nestle USA, Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Wrigley - the companies behind everything from M&Ms and Skittles to Butterfingers and Snickers - are reportedly among the companies participating. Their aim is cutting calorie counts in half of their individually wrapped products sold in the U.S. to no more than 200 calories within the next five years. Calorie cuts could come from issuing smaller packages or tinkering with recipes. The move follows a crackdown last year by the FDA on how packaged foods are labeled.



A New York couple is tying the knot after meeting at a gym where they worked out on their way to losing nearly 600 pounds together. Ronnie Brower weighed 675 pounds and could barely leave his parents' house four years ago. He was addicted to drugs, alcohol and food. When a doctor told him he'd be dead in two years, Brower decided to get in shape. With the help of personal trainer Nick Murphy, Brower followed a low-carbohydrate diet, quit the booze and drugs and worked out. In two years he lost 458 pounds. Andrea Masella was on her way to losing nearly half of her 250 pounds when she met Brower at the gym. The two are getting married on Saturday, with Murphy serving as the best man.



I'm taking a couple of days off early next week so there will be no podcast Monday or Tuesday. Look for the next podcast on Wednesday May 17th.   I'm Larry Rice. Thanks for supporting this podcast and for listening, and I hope you have a terrific weekend. 

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