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Besieged Puerto Rico governor goes quiet amid protests
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN | Fri, July 19, 2019 07:25 EDT
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is under siege.
Motorcyclists, celebrities, horse enthusiasts and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Puerto Ricans have swarmed outside La Fortaleza (The Fort) in Old San Juan this week, demanding Rosselló resign over a series of leaked online chats insulting women, political opponents and even victims of Hurricane Maria.
Rosselló, the telegenic 40-year-old son of a former governor, has dropped his normally intense rhythm of public appearances and gone into relatively long periods of near-media silence, intensifying questions about his future.
For much of his 2 1/2 years in office, Rosselló has given three or four lengthy news conferences a week, comfortably fielding question after question in Spanish and English from the local and international press. And that’s on top of public appearances, one-on-one interviews and televised meetings with visiting politicians and members of his administration.
But since July 11, when Rosselló cut short a family vacation in France and returned home to face the first signs of what has become an island-wide movement to oust him, the governor has made four appearances, all but one in highly controlled situations.
New protests began Friday afternoon, with unionized workers organizing a march to La Fortaleza from the nearby waterfront. Horseback riders joined them with a self-declared cavalry march, while hundreds of other people came from around the city and surrounding areas. A string of smaller events was on the agenda across the island over the weekend, followed by what many expected to be a massive protest on Monday.
The chorus calling for Rosselló’s resignation was joined Friday by Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez; U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida; and New York congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
The crisis has even cut back Rosselló’s affable online presence. The governor normally started every day by tweeting “Good morning!” to his followers around 5 a.m. The last such bright-and-early message came on July 8. The tweets from his account have dwindled to a trickle since then, and each one is met by a flood of often-abusive responses from Puerto Ricans demanding he resign.
Rosselló’s secretary of public affairs, Anthony Maceira, told reporters Friday that the governor was in La Fortaleza working on signing laws and filling posts emptied by the resignations of fellow members of the leaked chat group.
The head of Rosselló’s pro-statehood political party said a meeting of its directors had been convened for coming days, although the agenda was not disclosed beyond “addressing every one of the complaints of our colleagues.”
Rosselló offered a press conference on July 11 to address the arrest of two of his former department heads on federal corruption charges. He also asked the people of Puerto Rico to forgive him for a profanity-laced and at times misogynistic online chat with nine other male members of his administration, short selections of which had leaked to local media. Two days later, at least 889 pages of the chat were published by Puerto Rico’s award-winning Center for Investigative Journalism, and things got much, much worse for Rosselló.
In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a “whore,” describes another as a “daughter of a bitch” and makes fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo. The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin’s homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances.
The next day, Sunday, Rosselló appeared in a San Juan church and asked the congregation for forgiveness, without informing the press. The church broadcasts its services online, however, and his remarks became public. On Monday, July 15, Rosselló gave a notably non-confrontational interview to a salsa music radio station. The governor’s spokesman said the questions had been “negotiated” between Rosselló’s press team and the station. That night, thousands swarmed Old San Juan to demand his resignation.
On July 16, Rosselló held a press conference and faced aggressive questioning about the chat scandal and the corruption arrests. Later that day, an ally tweeted a photo of Rosselló embracing Wilfredo Santiago, an obese man whom the governor had mocked in one of the most infamous sections of the chat.
Since then, it’s been silence. There has been a handful of tweets, press releases and statements, some saying he won’t resign but mostly about purportedly routine meetings of administration officials.
His official spokespeople aren’t answering many questions, and even his whereabouts are mostly unknown.
Rosselló was raised in the public eye, as the youngest son of Pedro Rosselló, who served as governor from 1993 to 2001. One of Puerto Rico’s most charismatic and controversial governors, the elder Rosselló launched a string of large-scale infrastructure projects that swelled the public debt and ensuing bankruptcy that his son has inherited.
Known widely as Ricky, the younger Rosselló started his political career in his father’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party. Trained in biomechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Duke, he launched his campaign for governor in 2015 with little previous history of public service.
Deflecting questions about whether he owed his success to his connections, Rosselló portrayed himself as an affable technocrat with solutions to Puerto Rico’s debt and crumbling infrastructure, and by less than 3% of the total votes cast defeated David Bernier of Popular Democratic Party, which advocates greater Puerto Rican autonomy from the mainland United States.
Until now, Rosselló’s greatest challenge was Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck the Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power and communications systems. Rosselló came under heavy criticism for mismanaging the crisis, particularly for understating the deaths from the storm. While some of his deputies were vilified, Rosselló seemed to emerge relatively unscathed, perhaps due to his friendly and non-confrontational manner with critics, opponents and journalists alike.
The father of two young children, he often posts their photos online, along with images of his wife and their two rescue dogs, a Siberian Husky and a Yorkshire Terrier. Rosselló once halted a press conference to help local journalists move their equipment out of the rain.
Among the greatest shocks of the leaked chats for many Puerto Ricans was the puncturing of that image of low-key charm by the gross misogyny of online conversations.
“He was making an effort, carrying out his governor’s role,” said Jessica Castro, a 38-year-old San Juan resident attending a Friday evening protest with her family. “He was mocking everyone behind their backs, the people who believed in him. People are really disillusioned. He’s got to go.”
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
EarthLink – News
Giant Hawaii telescope to focus on big unknowns of universe
By AUDREY McAVOY 10:06 EDT
HONOLULU (AP) — Is there life on planets outside our solar system? How did stars and galaxies form in the earliest years of the universe? How do black holes shape galaxies?
Scientists are expected to explore those and other fundamental questions about the universe when they peer deep into the night sky using a new telescope planned for the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.
But the Thirty Meter Telescope is a decade away from being built. And Native Hawaiian protesters have tried to thwart the start of construction by blocking a road to the mountain. They say installing yet another observatory on Mauna Kea’s peak would further defile a place they consider sacred.
Activists have fought the $1.4 billion telescope but the state Supreme Court has ruled it can be built. The latest protests could be the final stand against it.
Here’s a look at the telescope project and some of the science it’s expected to produce.
WHY WOULD THE TELESCOPE BE MORE POWERFUL?
The large size of the telescope’s mirror means it would collect more light, allowing it to see faint, far-away objects such as stars and galaxies dating back as long as 13 billion years.
The telescope gets its name from the size of the mirror, which will be 30 meters (98 feet) in diameter. That’s three times as wide as the world’s largest existing visible-light telescope.
Adaptive optics would correct the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The telescope would be more than 200 times more sensitive than current telescopes and able to resolve objects 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, said Christophe Dumas, head of operations for the Thirty Meter Telescope.
WHAT RESEARCH WOULD THE TELESCOPE DO?
— Distant planets. During the past 20 years, astronomers have discovered it is common for planets to orbit other stars in the universe. But they don’t know much about what those planets — called extrasolar planets or exoplanets — are like. The new telescope would allow scientists to determine whether their atmospheres contain water vapor or methane which might indicate the presence of life.
“For the first time in history we will be capable of detecting extraterrestrial life,” Dumas said.
Dumas said the new telescope would use special optics to suppress the light of stars. He compared the technique to blocking a bright street light in the distance with your thumb then seeing insects circling in the fainter light below.
— Black holes. Black holes at the center of most galaxies are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull.
Andrea Ghez, a University of California, Los Angeles physics and astronomy professor who discovered our galaxy’s black hole, said scientists believe black holes play a fundamental role in how galaxies are formed and evolve.
But so far astronomers have only been able to observe this dynamic in detail in the Milky Way because the next galaxy is 100 times farther away.
The Thirty Meter Telescope would enable scientists to study more galaxies and more black holes in greater detail.
It may also help them understand gravity. Those who doubt the importance should note that GPS-enabled maps on cellphones rely on Einstein’s theories about gravity.
“We think of these things as esoteric. But in fact, in the long run, they have profound impacts on our lives,” Ghez said.
—Dark matter and dark energy. Humans see only about 4 percent of all matter in the universe, Dumas said. Dark energy makes up about three-quarters and dark matter the rest. Neither can be seen.
“We have no idea what dark matter is and no idea what dark energy is. That’s a big dilemma in today’s world,” Dumas said.
Because mass deforms space and light, Dumas said the new telescope would make it possible to measure how dark matter influences light.
It could do this by studying light from far-away galaxies. The light would take different paths to the telescope, generating different images of the same object.
WHY MAUNA KEA?
The weather at the summit of Mauna Kea tends to be ideal for viewing the skies. At nearly 14,000 feet, its peak is normally above the clouds. Being surrounded by the ocean means air flows tend to be smoother and it has the driest atmosphere of any of the candidate sites.
The mountain is already home to 13 other telescopes.
Ghez used the Keck Observatory there to find our galaxy’s black hole. Other discoveries credited to those sites over the years include the first images of exoplanets and helping identify ‘Oumuamua, the first object from interstellar space, which turned out to be a comet from a distant star system.
NEXT GENERATION TELESCOPES
Two other giant telescopes are being built in Chile, which also has excellent conditions for astronomy.
The European Extremely Large Telescope will have a primary mirror measuring 39 meters, or 128 feet, in diameter. The Giant Magellan Telescope’s mirror will be 24.5 meters, or 80 feet, in diameter.
The Thirty Meter Telescope is the only one expected to be built in the Northern Hemisphere. Because different spots on Earth look out on different parts of the sky, the next-generation ground telescopes will ensure scientists are able to see the entire universe.
The universities and national observatories behind the Thirty Meter Telescope have selected Spain’s Canary Islands as a backup site in case they are unable to build in Hawaii.
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Service resuming after 7 New York City subway lines stopped
By VERENA DOBNIK | Sat, July 20, 2019 12:27 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — About a third of New York City’s subway lines were suspended for more than an hour during Friday’s hot evening commute, and the head of the city’s Transit Authority acknowledged that the agency “did not know exactly where our trains were.”
A computer system failure that resulted in the snafu stranded some passengers underground and sent others searching for alternate ways home.
The stoppage affected the No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 trains that serve swaths of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. It also halted the S shuttle train that links Grand Central Terminal and Times Square — two of the city’s busiest stations.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned that there would still be “extensive delays” in the system, which serves more than 5 million people per day, even after service began to resume Friday night.
The agency blamed the suspension on a failure in the computer system that powers the signals on those lines. Spokesman Tim Minton said in an emailed statement that there is no indication the stoppage was related to a loss of power or to the heat.
The president of the New York City Transit Authority, Andy Byford, later told reporters that the signal failure meant “we did not know exactly where our trains were, so for safety reasons, we had to ask all trains, to instruct all trains to stop where they were, to maintain their positions while we ascertained what exactly was going on such that we could safely move trains out.”
Once the servers were rebooted, he said, the signals gradually came back, along with a “phased restart” of trains.
The temperature above ground was still above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) when trains stopped at around 6 p.m. Friday, though meteorologists estimated that it felt like 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Minton said it did not appear that trains lost power during the stoppage.
The breakdown came as the city geared up for scorching temperatures throughout the weekend, but it generally did not result in chaos. Passengers were directed to other subway lines and the bus system — and many may have escaped the city early to get a start to the weekend.
At the World Trade Center No. 1 line station, a clerk issued refund tickets and directed people to other nearby lines. Passengers — many of them visitors to New York — seemed to take the developments in stride.
“It’s about what I expected,” said Derek Lloyd, who’s from Hanover, Massachusetts, near Boston and its MBTA transit system. “I don’t know that ours is much better,” he said with a smile.
On a line that was running, passengers packed into one car that didn’t appear to have air conditioning. Sweat glistened on riders’ skin as they sought relief, fanning themselves and one another.
“This is dangerous,” one woman noted.
It was the second time in the past week that New York subway riders got stuck underground. Last Saturday, a power outage that stretched across 30 Manhattan blocks from the Upper West Side to Times Square left passengers stranded till trains were manually moved into stations and doors opened. The outage was blamed on a system that failed to isolate a faulty distribution cable.
Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Why no hush-money charges against Trump? Feds are silent
By JIM MUSTIAN 05:08 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — When special counsel Robert Mueller closed the books on the Russia investigation, he produced a report of more than 400 pages, and Attorney General William Barr held a news conference outlining the reasons the Justice Department didn’t charge President Donald Trump.
But in stark contrast to the Mueller inquiry, federal prosecutors in Manhattan have remained tight-lipped about their rationale for charging only Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, in a hush-money scandal in which they publicly implicated the president and investigated others in his orbit.
There was no news conference or press release announcing the end of the investigation this week. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, has stayed silent on the matter. His office declined to answer questions.
The closure of the case became public only because news organizations, including The Associated Press, petitioned a judge to release search warrants related to the FBI raid of Cohen’s office and hotel room last year.
It was amid that litigation — and at the behest of a federal judge— that prosecutors revealed in a court filing this week that they had closed their investigation into the campaign finance violations Cohen committed when he arranged payments to silence two women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Trump.
That probe, begun in 2017, turned up evidence that Trump himself was aware of the payments, despite his initial public claims to know nothing about them, including a recording in which Trump can be heard speaking to Cohen about efforts to buy the continued silence of Karen McDougal, a Playboy model.
Prosecutors went as far as saying in court filings that Trump directed Cohen to make the payments, though they referred to him in court filings as “Individual 1,” not by name.
The U.S. House Oversight Committee on Friday asked prosecutors to produce documents and evidence in the case, saying they wanted to get to the bottom of the decision to charge Cohen but no one else.
“The committee is seeking to determine whether the internal Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president — the same policy that prevented Special Counsel Robert Mueller from bringing an indictment against President Trump for obstruction of justice in the Russian election interference investigation — played any role in your office’s decision not to indict President Trump for these hush money crimes,” the committee’s chairman, Maryland Democrat U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, wrote in the letter.
“The office of the president should not be used as a shield for criminal conduct,” Cummings added.
They asked that the records be produced by Aug. 2.
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors generally don’t offer public explanations for investigations that fail to lead to criminal charges, but they sometimes make exceptions in cases of public importance.
The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn this week, for instance, summoned reporters to explain why the Justice Department decided not to prosecute a white New York City police officer accused of using a banned chokehold in the 2014 death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, calling the case a “terrible tragedy” but one that didn’t warrant civil rights charges.
Former FBI Director James Comey made detailed public statements after deciding not to recommend charges in an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Comey told reporters he believed the “American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest.”
In 2017, acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced he would not bring public corruption charges against New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat now running for president, after an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations.
“I find it odd they haven’t made clear what happened here,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman during the Obama administration, said of the Justice Department’s decision not to say anything publicly about the end of the Cohen investigation.
“They’ve set up this system in which the president is treated differently than anyone else in the country,” Miller said. “Given that they publicly named the president as having directed a crime, it makes no sense for them to end this investigation without at least telling Congress what they found.”
Bruce Green, a former prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, disagreed, saying it is “unusual and extreme” for federal prosecutors to explain a decision not to prosecute.
“It’s not the ordinary practice,” said Green, who directs the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at the Fordham University School of Law. “I don’t think there’s an exception in this case.”
Trump has said the payments to McDougal and another woman, the porn actress Stormy Daniels, were a private matter and didn’t violate campaign finance rules. While castigating Cohen as a liar, Trump has also said he doesn’t believe his former lawyer should have pleaded guilty to the charges.
Federal prosecutors revealed in a court filing this week that they also had investigated whether anyone had given false statements during the inquiry or otherwise obstructed justice, but didn’t reveal who those people were.
Associated Press Writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct language in the second-to-last paragraph to say that Trump has said the payments were a private matter and didn’t violate campaign finance rules, not denied that they were a private matter and didn’t violate rules.