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AP
Trump threatens to raise Chinese tariffs to 25% this week
 
 05.05.19

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump turned up the pressure on China on Sunday, threatening to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Trump’s comments, delivered on Twitter, came as a Chinese delegation was scheduled to resume talks in Washington on Wednesday aimed at resolving a trade war that has shaken financial markets and cast gloom over the world economy.

Trump turned up the heat by saying he would raise import taxes on $200 billion in Chinese products to 25% from 10% on Friday. He’s twice pushed back deadlines — in January and March — to raise the tariffs in a bid to buy more time for a negotiated settlement.

But on Sunday, Trump, who has called himself a “tariff man,” said he’s losing patience. “The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!” Trump tweeted.

The two countries are locked in a high-stakes dispute over China’s push to establish itself as a technological super power. The U.S. charges that China is resorting to predatory tactics — including cybertheft and forcing foreign companies to hand over technology — in a drive to establish Chinese companies as world leaders in advanced industries such as robotics and electric vehicles.

Last July, the Trump administration gradually began slapping import taxes on Chinese goods to pressure Beijing into changing its policies. It now has imposed 10% tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports and 25% tariffs on another $50 billion.

The administration has repeatedly suggested that the negotiators are making progress. A month ago, Trump said that the two countries were “rounding the turn” and predicted that “something monumental” would be achieved in the next few weeks.

But last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seemed to temper expectations, suggesting that Washington was willing to “move on” if it can’t get the deal it wants.

A substantive deal would require China to rethink the way it pursues its economic ambitions, abandoning or scaling back subsidies to its companies, easing up on the pressure for foreign companies to share trade secrets, and giving them more access to the Chinese market.

Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a White House economist under President George W. Bush, said the talks are too complicated for Trump’s high-pressure tactics to work. “The president treats this like we’re haggling over the price of a used car,” Levy said.

The prospect of higher tariffs and heightened tensions could alarm investors when markets open Monday. “When the president puts his foot down, it makes the market go down,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, wrote in a research note Sunday. “Tariff man is back just in time to make the stock market dive, dive, dive.”


Robinson
editor's pick
Sewage invades Robinson homes as city works to replace aging infrastructure
 Brooke Crum  / 
 05.05.19

The first time it happened, Carole Fergusson was a new Robinson resident, and she was not sure how sewage had backed up into her home’s toilet, causing it to overflow.

The next time, Fergusson was more prepared after researching the reason behind her toilet not flushing and sewage spewing out of her shower stall. She contacted the city about the sewage invading her home, but officials told her it would take time and money to fix.

Robinson Director of Utility Services Greg Hobbs said the city is working to update the aging infrastructure in the subdivision where Fergusson lives, near Old Robinson Road, as funding allows.

“We are addressing the problem,” he said Friday.

The problem is not isolated to the city of Robinson. The American Society of Civil Engineers has regularly rated the U.S. and state infrastructure systems since the 1980s. In its 2017 Texas report, the ASCE gave the state a D grade for wastewater infrastructure, dropped from a C- in 2012.

According to the ASCE report, wastewater sewer systems in Texas are subject to being overwhelmed by heavy rainfall events and stormwater flooding. The wastewater volume can exceed the capacity of the wastewater sewer systems or the treatment plant and discharge untreated wastewater.

For Fergusson and her neighbors, the city is not addressing the problem fast enough.

Carole Fergusson photo  

Sewage backed up into Carole Fergusson’s bathtub in her Robinson home after recent heavy rains.

In the past eight months, sewage has infiltrated Fergusson’s home six times through the shower, bathtub and toilet, leaking onto the floor and eroding floor boards.

“This is literally destroying my home,” she said. “I can’t bathe my child. It’s destroying our lives.”

Fergusson said her husband stood in sewage for more than hour Thursday night after a deluge caused sewage to stream out of their shower and toilet, while he attempted to stem the flow.

“I’m a private person. This isn’t something I want to do,” Fergusson said of contacting the media about the issue. “But I can’t do anything else.”

On the city’s part, Hobbs said workers finished one phase of the project a year ago, replacing red clay pipes that should have never been installed in the first place.

He said the problem is infiltration, when rain seeps into the clay pipes through cracks and overwhelms the pipe.

The first streets that received repairs were Willard and Denison, Hobbs said. The next streets are Karnes, Betsy and Billington. The city also lists infrastructure projects on its website.


AP
Israel steps up strikes as Gaza rocket attacks intensify
 
 05.05.19

JERUSALEM — Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, killing at least four Israelis and bringing life to a standstill across the region in the bloodiest fighting since a 2014 war. As Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes, the Palestinian death toll rose to 23, including two pregnant women and two babies.

The bloodshed marked the first Israeli fatalities from rocket fire since the 2014 war. With Palestinian militants threatening to send rockets deeper into Israel and Israeli reinforcements massing near the Gaza frontier, the fighting showed no signs of slowing down.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent most of the day huddled with his Security Cabinet. Late Sunday, the Cabinet instructed the army to “continue its attacks and to stand by” for further orders. Israel also claimed to have killed a Hamas commander involved in transferring Iranian funds to the group.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Western-backed Palestinian forces in 2007. They have fought numerous smaller battles, most recently two rounds in March.

While lulls in fighting used to last for months or even years, these flare-ups have grown increasingly frequent as a desperate Hamas, weakened by a crippling Egyptian-Israeli blockade imposed 12 years ago, seeks to put pressure on Israel to ease the closure.

The blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy, and a year of Hamas-led protests along the Israeli frontier has yielded no tangible benefits. In March, Hamas faced several days of street protests over the dire conditions.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement late Sunday that the militant group was “not interested in a new war.”

He signaled readiness to “return to the state of calm” if Israel stopped its attacks “and immediately starts implementing understandings about a dignified life.”

With little to lose, Hamas appears to be trying to step up pressure on Netanyahu at a time when the Israeli leader is vulnerable on several fronts.

Fresh off an election victory, Netanyahu is now engaged in negotiations with his hard-line political partners on forming a governing coalition. If fighting drags on, the normally cautious Netanyahu could be weakened in his negotiations as his partners push for a tougher response.

Later this week, Israel marks Memorial Day, one of the most solemn days of the year, and its festive Independence Day. Next week, Israel is to host the Eurovision song contest. Prolonged fighting could overshadow these important occasions and deter foreign tourists.

The arrival of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins Monday, does not seem to be deterring Hamas.

But the group is also taking a big risk if it pushes too hard. During the 50-day war in 2014, Israel killed over 2,200 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, according to U.N. tallies, and caused widespread damage to homes and infrastructure. While Hamas is eager to burnish its credentials as a resistance group, the Gazan public has little stomach for another devastating war.

“Hamas is the change seeker,” said retired Brig. Gen. Assaf Orion, a former head of the Israeli military general staff’s strategic division. “Hamas needs to make its calculus, balancing its hope for improvement against its fear of escalation.”

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Israelis have “every right to defend themselves.” He expressed hope that the recent cease-fire could be restored.

President Donald Trump warned the Gaza militants that “these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery.” ‘’We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens....” he tweeted. “END the violence and work towards peace - it can happen!”

The U.N. Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, called for a halt in rocket fire and “a return to the understandings of the past few months before it is too late.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also called for a halt to “indiscriminate rocket attacks” from Gaza and expressed support for Egyptian and U.N. mediation efforts.

Previous rounds of fighting have all ended in informal Egyptian-mediated truces in which Israel pledged to ease the blockade while militants promised to halt rocket fire. Following a familiar pattern, the current round began with sporadic rocket fire amid Palestinian accusations that Israel was not keeping its promises to loosen the blockade.

On Friday, two Israeli soldiers were wounded by snipers from Islamic Jihad, a smaller Iranian-backed militant group that often cooperates with Hamas but sometimes acts independently. Israel responded by killing two Palestinian militants, leading to intense rocket barrages and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes beginning Saturday.

Islamic Jihad threatened to strike deeper into Israel, saying it “is ready to engage in an open confrontation and can open a broader front to defend our land and people.”

By Sunday, the Israeli military said militants had fired over 600 rockets, with the vast majority falling in open areas or intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket-defense system. But more than 30 rockets managed to strike urban areas, the army said.

Israeli officials said Moshe Agadi, a 58-year-old Israeli father of four, was fatally struck in the chest by shrapnel in a residential courtyard in the southern town of Ashkelon.

The other deaths included a 49-year-old man killed when a rocket hit an Ashkelon factory, a man who was killed when his vehicle was hit by a Kornet anti-tank missile near the Gaza border, and a 35-year-old man whose car was hit by a rocket in the southern city of Ashdod.

Israeli police said 66 people were wounded, three seriously. In Ashkelon, the Barzilai hospital itself was hit by debris from a rocket that was intercepted by an Iron Dome missile.

The Israeli deaths were the first rocket-related fatalities since the 2014 war, when 73 people, including six civilians, were killed on the Israeli side.

The Israeli military said it struck 250 targets in Gaza, including weapons storage, attack tunnels and rocket launching and production facilities. It also deployed tanks and infantry forces to the Gaza frontier, and put another brigade on standby.

“We have been given orders to prepare for a number of days of fighting under current conditions,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.

Palestinian medical officials reported 23 dead, including at least eight militants hit in targeted airstrikes. At least four civilians, including two pregnant women and two babies, were also among the dead.

Late Saturday, the Palestinians said a 37-year-old pregnant woman and her 14-month-old niece were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The army denied involvement, saying they were killed by an errant Palestinian rocket. There was no way to reconcile the claims.

Among the militants who were killed was Hamas commander Hamed al-Khoudary, a money changer whom Israel said was a key player in transferring Iranian funds to the militant group.

Late Sunday, an Israeli airstrike hit an apartment building in northern Gaza, killing a couple in their early 30s and their 4-month-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy was also killed in northern Gaza.

Sirens wailed along Israel’s border region throughout the day warning of incoming attacks. School was canceled and roads were closed. In Gaza, large explosions thundered across the blockaded enclave during the night as plumes of smoke rose into the air.


Dallas, San Antonio mayoral races set for runoffs as Fort Worth mayor wins re-election
 
 05.05.19

The Dallas mayoral race is headed to a runoff, while San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg was forced into an overtime round and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price easily won re-election.

That is according to unofficial returns Saturday night for the mayoral elections in three of Texas’ largest cities, representing a combined 3.7 million people. All precincts were reporting in Dallas and Fort Worth, while all but a few were reporting in San Antonio.

The runoffs will be June 8.

In Dallas, the top two finishers in the crowded field to succeed term-limited Mayor Mike Rawlings were state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, and Scott Griggs, a member of the city council. Johnson had 20% of the vote, while Griggs had 19%.

In San Antonio, Nirenberg failed to win a second term outright, advancing to a runoff against Greg Brockhouse, a member of the city council. Nirenberg finished narrowly ahead of Brockhouse, 49% to 46%.

And in Fort Worth, Mayor Betsy Price handily won an unprecedented fifth term, defeating her top challenger, Deborah Peoples, by 14 percentage points.

The races were nonpartisan, though partisan politics was a part of them. Peoples, the chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, was endorsed by the state party and had been boosted in recent days by a trio of Democratic presidential candidates: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as well as Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke. The latter two campaigned with her this weekend in Fort Worth.

While the Fort Worth contest was not close, Peoples was the strongest challenger that Price had faced since she was first elected in 2011. Price ran for re-election twice unopposed and defeated a political newcomer in 2017 by 40 points.

In San Antonio, mayoral politics continued to prove volatile, with voters set to pick their mayor in a runoff for the third consecutive time. Nirenberg ousted incumbent Ivy Taylor in an overtime round in 2017, two years after she won in a runoff.

The Nirenberg-Brockhouse matchup had been animated in recent weeks by the city’s decision to bar Chick-fil-A from its airport over an alleged “legacy of anti-LGBT behavior.” Nirenberg had supported the move and defended it from a business perspective, noting the fast food chain is closed on Sundays, while Brockhouse had aligned with conservatives in opposing the decision and trying to get it reversed.

In Dallas, a runoff was all but guaranteed given the field of nine candidates, most of them viable. Finishing behind the runoff qualifiers were philanthropist Lynn McBee, developer Mike Ablon, school board trustee Miguel Solis and civic leader Regina Montoya, who had the endorsement of longtime friend Hillary Clinton.


AP
Home state politics complicate message for some 2020 Dems
 
 05.05.19

NASHUA, N.H. — Democrat Beto O’Rourke uses his home state as a cautionary tale, ticking through Texas’ Republican-backed policies as warning flags for the rest of the country.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg mentions once worrying about how coming out as gay in deeply Republican Indiana might have cost him re-election, even in his more moderate college town of South Bend.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks of evolving away from defending gun rights during her early years in Congress representing a conservative House district in upstate New York and notes, “I have uncles who voted for Trump. I get it.”

There are 20-plus Democrats competing for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, but only five are from reliably GOP areas. Members of this select group are trying to balance their home turf stories, pitching themselves as uniquely suited to win over voters who previously backed President Donald Trump while also pointing out what they view as the shortfalls of Republican government.

“When you’re coming from a state like that, you’ve got to pick your spots to try to figure out where you can have a little bit of influence,” said Russell Ott, a Democratic state representative in South Carolina, which holds the South’s first presidential primary but has no Democratic statewide officeholders. “I think that’s something people appreciate.”

O’Rourke, who represented El Paso, on the Texas border with Mexico, in Congress for six years says he will work with both parties and loves his state. But he isn’t shy about ripping its politics.

He decries Texas for championing the death penalty, failing to expand Medicaid under the Obama administration’s health law and having one of the nation’s lowest voter turnout rates — due, he says, to strict voter ID rules. O’Rourke also says jails are among Texas’ top providers of mental health care and people deliberately get arrested to seek treatment. He says Texas is one of many places without laws prohibiting employers from firing people for being gay.

“It’s a defense in a court of law in Texas if you’ve killed someone of the same sex because they came on to you in a bar or on the street,” O’Rourke tells campaign audiences, noting that Texas and other states don’t prohibit what LGBT activists call “gay panic defense” as a mitigating argument in criminal court.

Fellow Texan Julian Castro, ex-San Antonio mayor and Obama administration housing chief, is more critical of Trump than the Lone Star State, and praises his heavily Hispanic city.

“I came up in San Antonio that was almost 50-50 Republican/Democrat,” Castro said, though politics there now are far more liberal. “I had to learn how to talk to the other side, consider their ideas, find common ground where we could.”

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel says he’s running for president to push the field farther left — defying his home state, which hasn’t voted Democratic for president since 1968.

Conversely, many of the race’s top blue-state Democrats play up their stomping grounds.

California Sen. Kamala Harris said “I am so proud to be a daughter of Oakland, California” and has talked about how her East Bay roots instilled a sense of community and optimism. Her state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, isn’t running but he also isn’t afraid to say that California should be the inspiration for 2020 Democrats: “We’re in the most Un-Trump state in America.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren champions being an Oklahoma native who can appeal to rural voters, but offers a liberal populist message most representative of the Democratic bastions of the state she represents, Massachusetts. And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proclaims, “I know where I come from and that is something I will never forget” when speaking about his Brooklyn upbringing.

Those 2020 Democrats from Republican strongholds may have an advantage over their competitors, however, because they won’t have to answer for more liberal-policies common in Democratic areas. Such political baggage may not hurt during the primary but could in the general election against Trump.

Buttigieg largely refrains from criticizing his native state but sees “coming from a fairly blue city in a purple county in a red state” as an advantage.

“If nothing else, it gives you a different vocabulary,” Buttigieg said. “A lot of times, even when I have a strong progressive message, I think I have an instinct for how to convey that in a way that’s inclusive and then reaches to more people.”

Gillibrand came to the House in 2007 representing a conservative district and once signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing for overturning a District of Columbia handgun ban.

She now says she was wrong but that learning from the issue has made her stronger, and she can now better relate to those voters that Democrats need to win back from Trump. Gillibrand notes she was introduced during a recent visit to Iowa as being from “the Iowa part of New York.”

“The Democrats in these places are a lot like my Democrats” in New York, she said. “They fight really hard. They know how hard it is to win, but they really never give up and they organize and they’re ambitious and they try really hard.”