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    Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday. Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state's droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes. Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife. Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California's wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms. The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California's heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water. Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year. The overall effort “ensured the highest quality' of evaluation of the rule changes, Paul Souza, Pacific Southwest director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is under the Interior Department, said in a statement Tuesday. “We strongly disagree that the proposal will reduce protections for endangered species,' Souza said. Beyond operational changes in the federal Central Valley Project water system, the administration's changes allow for more habitat restoration, upgrades in fish hatcheries and the water system itself, monitoring of species and other improvements, Souza said. Careers of California politicians can rise and fall on water issues. It's often rancorous, as when Republican Rep. Devin Nunes in 2017 celebrated passage of a House resolution weakening environmental protections by tweeting a photo of cupcakes decorated with Delta smelt, a Northern California fish nearing extinction. Trump mocked environmental limits on water deliveries in California in his 2016 campaign visit, saying they were all about “a certain kind of 3-inch fish,' the smelt. Conservation groups have promised new rounds of water lawsuits to try to block the redone environmental rules. “The species really are in much worse shape” than in earlier years, Doug Obegi with the Natural Resources Defense Council said. “We are at the point where we may watch them wink out ... potentially in the next few years.” Another big change alarming conservation groups and some water agencies outside of Southern California is the pending award of a permanent federal contract from the Bureau of Reclamation to Westlands Water District, a Central Valley-based water agency that is the nation's largest irrigation water district. The Bureau of Reclamation is under the Interior Department, led by Secretary David Bernhardt, who was a lobbyist of Westlands Water District in Washington through 2016. Trump nominated Bernhardt to join the Interior Department, initially as deputy secretary, the next year. The then-Republican-led Congress in 2016 approved legislation allowing California water agencies to pay to make their federal water contracts permanent. Westlands has jumped toward the front of the line, closing its public comment period last month. Interior officials said Westlands still owes around $200 million from the initial cost of nearly a half-billion dollars. Conservation groups and some Northern California water agencies fear Westlands' permanent contract — and political power — will help it claim a bigger share of water when drought and over-demand reduce supplies, said Patricia Schifferle, an California water-law expert and activist. In December, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said it planned to sue the Trump administration over their proposed new rules, saying they do not do enough to protect endangered species. That lawsuit still has not been filed. Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, said state officials are still negotiating with the Trump administration about whether they would change the proposed rules to address the state’s environmental concerns. “From our perspective, if we can resolve our concerns and ensure adequate protection of these endangered species, then we think it would be important to do so and we could avoid probably years of litigation,” Crowfoot said. —- Beam contributed from Sacramento.
  • Even before “Fresh Off the Boat” hit the airwaves on ABC in February 2015, the show was facing pressure that other new shows weren't. It was set to be the first network TV comedy with an all-Asian cast since Margaret Cho's “All-American Girl” premiered 20 years earlier. ABC canceled that series after one season, and some wondered how long this show would last too. Randall Park, who portrays patriarch Louis, never even thought the pilot — inspired by restaurateur and TV personality Eddie Huang's childhood memoir — would be picked up. “The odds of a show getting picked up are tiny. On top of that, being an Asian-American family at the center of a show just made it kind of seem impossible in my head,' Park told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Atlanta, where he is filming the Marvel/Disney+ series “WandaVision.” Now, after six seasons, “Fresh Off the Boat” will make its final voyage Friday. Without question, the sitcom, centered on a Taiwanese-Chinese American family in the 1990s living in predominantly white Orlando, Florida — will be immortalized in the canon of Asian-American representation. It accomplished some unique firsts, like being the first American TV show to film on location in Taiwan and having a majority of dialogue in one episode be in Mandarin. It paved the path for movie stardom for Park ('Always Be My Maybe') and on-screen wife Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians,' “Hustlers”). And having passed 100 episodes, the Huangs will live on in syndication for years to come. Hudson Yang, 16, was 9 years old when he won the role of Eddie. Thanks to his father, journalist Jeff Yang, he had an inkling this wasn't just any TV gig. “My Dad would definitely talk about how important it was to have this kind of show. We talked about how previously ‘All-American Girl’ tried to do the same thing,” Yang said. “I knew a little bit about how important it was but I didn’t really know the full scale until a little bit later on.” The series used culturally specific humor while trying to universally appeal to a broadcast network audience. “What was smart was having a writers' room, showrunner and actors that felt more empowered like they were part of the process,” said Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media. “They take that stereotype-based joke and turn it on its head a little bit more. That’s where the in-community joke gets funnier.” The show may also be remembered for headlines generated off-screen. Wu, who was not available for an interview, shocked viewers when she angrily tweeted about the show's renewal in May. She issued an explanation the next day, saying she would have to give up another project. She also apologized for being “insensitive” to struggling actors. During the show's first season, the real-life Eddie Huang distanced himself from the show. In an essay for Vulture in 2015, he slammed it as a “cornstarch story” that was less about about specific moments in his life and was instead a bland, “one-size-fits-all” narrative. Huang hasn't wavered. 'I take representing my experience as an Asian American in this country very seriously,' Huang said in an interview in January. “I never compromised it for what a company or brand or studio told me to do.” For better or worse, the show was often treated as a default ambassador for the Asian-American experience. So, the cast understands some of the criticism from Huang and others. “As expected, there were some people who were like ‘This isn’t my family.’ It’s an understandable kind of response when there’s only one,” Park said. “But I get stopped by people of different races who say how much they love the show.” “Fresh Off the Boat's” absence leaves “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” the Comedy Central series led by the star of “The Farewell,” as the only other U.S. series with a mostly Asian cast. But because of “Fresh Off the Boat,” there's already hope that Asian American-led successors will no longer be seen as out of the ordinary. “It is redefining what mainstream culture is. I think that’s the legacy,” Gong said. “It helped redefined a space that will help all creative Asian American media, producers and artists.” As a young Asian American actor, Yang said it's been exciting to see how much the landscape has already changed in six years. He cited Ken Jeong's since canceled ABC sitcom, “Dr. Ken,” and the game-changing opportunities for other “Crazy Rich Asians' actors. “Henry Golding, he's playing Snake Eyes,” Yang said. “I feel like things are slowly changing. Soon, we hopefully won't have to worry too much about only having a few of us on TV, only having a few of us represented.” Park credits “Fresh Off the Boat” fame for allowing him to be choosier about work. The actor, who co-wrote “Always Be My Maybe” with friends including Ali Wong — a former staff writer on the show — recently formed his own production company. “I’m in more of a position to create things now which is really exciting,' Park said. “It's been a focus of mine tell more stories from an Asian American perspective.” Park also recently was in a position to direct. He helmed the series finale, which will include flashes of the Huang family's future. Pulling double duty distracted him from getting overwhelmed with emotions. “While a lot of people were crying, I was thinking about the next step,” Park said. For Yang, the next step will likely be college as well as the next acting job. And he knows he can think big. “My dream role is always gonna be Amadeus Cho. He's the Asian hulk,” said Yang, referring to the fictional superhero in the Marvel comic books. “But now, my dream for the next role is something fundamentally different from Eddie.” ___ Terry Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP
  • A 6-year-old girl who disappeared from her front yard after school was strangled by a neighbor who then killed himself, authorities said Tuesday. Faye Marie Swetlik died just hours after she was abducted, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher told reporters Tuesday. Her body was found nearly three days later in woods near her home and had been put there just hours earlier, Fisher said. Between that time, investigators had spoken with the suspect.Coty Scott Taylor let them search his home a few doors down from the girl. They saw nothing to suggest the girl was ever there, Cayce Public Safety Director Byron Snellgrove said. Reporters asked Snellgrove if investigators knew where the girl was. “We do not know at this time,' Snellgrove said. Shortly after the girl's body was found,authorities said,they were called to Taylor's home where he was found dead on his back porch, covered in blood. Taylor, 30, slit his own throat, Fisher said in astatement releasedafter Tuesday's news conference,in which the coroner only wanted to talk in front of cameras about the girl. Fisher also refused to release any details about the condition of the girl's body ordisclose any other way she might have been injured out of respect for her family. Snellgrove also didn't talk about why Taylor, with no criminal record, would have kidnapped the girl. He said last week that Taylor did not know the girl or her family. “DNA was tested and did connect and link the residence, the deceased male and Faye to that location,' Snellgrove said. The girl was last seen alive playing in her Cayce front yard after getting off the school bus on Feb. 10. More than 200 officers searched over three days for her, knocking on every door in her neighborhood and checking every vehicle going in and out. They knocked on Taylor's door, too, the day before he killed himself, Snellgrove said. “He was cooperative and gave consent to agents to look through the house. Those agents did not see anything that alerted them to believe he had knowledge or was in any was involved in Faye’s disappearance at that time,' Snellgrove said. The clue that cracked the case came from a trash can. Investigators followed a trash truck going around the neighborhood Thursday and sifted through every can as it was emptied. Inside Taylor's can,Snellgrove said, they found a rain boot matching one Faye was wearing and a ladle full of dirt. Snellgrove said he ordered a search near the area and personally found the girl's body which was “moved in shadow of the night.” Taylor has a roommate who was not home much while the girl was missing, said Snellgrove, adding the roommate appeared to know nothing aboutthe abduction. “It appears (Taylor) is the sole perpetrator of the crime,' Snellgrove said of Taylor. The girl's disappearance shocked Cayce, a town of about 13,000 just west of Columbia, the state capital.Several prayer vigils were held while she was missing and after her body was found. Snellgrove appeared to choke up while announcingthe girl's death just hours after finding her body. 'This was not just an investigation or a case to us. Faye Swetlik quickly grabbed all of our hearts,' Snellgrove said Tuesday. A public memorial for Faye will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce. Fisher said her heart broke for the girl's family, who lost a child as she simply played in her front yard. “You and Faye will remain in my heart forever,' the coroner said. ___ Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP
  • President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he's ready to use his “big voice” to bolster Republicans' 2020 campaign hopes as he heads west for a four-day visit mixing policy and politics. Trump's trip will be packed with big-dollar fundraisers, a trio of campaign rallies meant to energize his base and a sprinkle of official presidential events where he can showcase administration actions and offset some of his travel costs. The trip to California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado is an unusually long domestic trip for Trump, who prefers to sleep in his own bed but is stepping up his political travel now that his impeachment trial is over. He was expected to raise $14 million at two California campaign fundraisers,according to a Republican official familiar with planning of the events. That money will be split among his campaign, the Republican National Committee and 22 Republican state parties. Trump will spend his overnights in Las Vegas just as Democrats have descended on the state ahead of a debate there Wednesday and Nevada’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday. The rallies will take him to two states with vulnerable Republican senators — Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona. Both stood by Trump during the Senate's impeachment trial. Trump also announced that he will soon head to South Carolina to campaign, likely the day before Democrats in the state hold their primary on Feb. 29. “Look — we have a big voice, and we might as well use it,” Trump told reporters before departing Washington. In Los Angeles on Tuesday, Trump is also set to meet with the Los Angeles Olympic committee “for an update on their efforts to prepare for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games,” the White House said. He is scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser in Beverly Hills before continuing to Las Vegas, where he is expected to stay at his private hotel just off the Las Vegas Strip. On Wednesday, Trump will fly to Rancho Mirage, California, to billionaire Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison's estate, which includes a private golf club, where his campaign is hosting a golf outing and fundraiser. Ellison previously hosted President Barack Obama at the course, which, like others in the arid Coachella Valley, has faced scrutiny for high water usage. Trump will then visit Bakersfield, California, the hometown of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, “to speak with hardworking farmers in the Central Valley about efforts to dramatically improve the supply and delivery of water in California and other Western states,” the White House said. Trump will then hold a rally in Phoenix before returning to Las Vegas. On Thursday, Trump will speak at the Hope for Prisoners Graduation Ceremony held at the Las Vegas police headquarters, the White House said, adding that the president intends to focus on efforts 'to provide previously incarcerated Americans with second chances.' He will hold another rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before flying back to Las Vegas. He will hold a final rally in Las Vegas on Friday. The trip comes as he is stepping up his campaign activity before the November election and as pro-Trump groups raised a combined $60 million in January, shattering fundraising records. Before departing, Trump also could not help but tweak his Democratic presidential rivals, and he feigned concern that Democratic front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders is getting a raw deal from party leaders. The Democratic National Committee announced earlier Tuesday — following a change of debate qualification rules — that former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has qualified to take part in Wednesday's debate in Nevada. The billionaire Bloomberg is self-financing his campaign and has faced criticism from Sanders and other Democratic rivals that he's attempting to buy the party's nomination. “Always be careful what you wish for, and I'm not wishing for anything,” said Trump, who insists he doesn't have a preferred Democrat he'd like to face in November. “Whoever it is, I'll be very happy.”
  • The Trump administration on Tuesday designated five state-run Chinese news outlets that operate in the United States as “foreign missions,” requiring them to register their properties and employees in the U.S. The move comes amid growing U.S. concerns about efforts by overseas media organizations to influence U.S. public opinion and a determination by Washington that the outlets are directly controlled by the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party, according to two State Department officials. The designations require each affected outlet to register the locations of any properties they own or rent in the United States, get permission to lease or purchase additional properties, and disclose the names of their employees in the U.S., including American citizens, according to the officials. The designations do not, however, require the outlets' employees to notify U.S. authorities of their movements in the country and are not intended to impede them from conducting journalistic activities, the officials said. The five outlets affected are China's official Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, the China Daily Distribution Corporation, which distributes the newspaper of the same name, and Hai Tian Development USA, which distributes the People's Daily newspaper, the officials said. The official said the five organizations were notified of the designations earlier Tuesday and that they take effect immediately. The designations are expected to be published in the Federal Register later this week, and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending that public announcement. Xinhua and China Global Television were directed two years ago by the Justice Department to register as foreign agents in the United States, although it is not clear if either ever did. Several Russian news outlets, including the Russia Today television network, face similar directions from Justice. Tuesday's 'foreign mission' designations come under State Department authority and subject the outlets to requirements similar to diplomatic and other official foreign government entities that operate in the United States. The designations do not confer any diplomatic status on the organizations' property or employees, the officials said. The officials said there is precedent for designating state-run news agencies as “foreign missions,' including during the Cold War, when most, if not all, Soviet outlets were so identified. More recently, the officials said the Vietnam News Agency was designated a foreign mission in the United States and its offices and employees required to register.
  • Pacific Gas and Electric says it expects to become more profitable than ever after it emerges from bankruptcy and pays off more than $25 billion in losses sustained in catastrophic wildfires ignited by its outdated equipment. The nation's largest utility shared its rosy outlook on Tuesday, along with its sobering results for 2019. PG&E wound up losing $7.6 billion last year, widening from its previous record loss of $6.8 billion in 2018. Last year's loss included a $3.6 billion setback during the final three months of the year. The dismal numbers marked a low point the San Francisco company's 114-year history as it cleaned up a financial mess caused by its liability for a series of deadly fires in 2017 and 2018. The crippling burden prompted PG&E to file for bankruptcy protection 13 months ago, marking its second stint in bankruptcy in two decades. The losses reported Tuesday primarily stemmed from the cost of covering various settlements reached with PG&E's wildfire victims as part of the company's effort to meet a June 30 deadline for getting out of bankruptcy. Besides accounting for its past, PG&E also provided a glimpse at the road ahead. The outlook comes as PG&E tried to counter intensifying pressure from California Gov. Gavin Newsom to come up with a plan that gives it the financial muscle to make badly needed improvements in its decaying electrical grid to reduce wildfire risks. Newsom holds unusual leverage over PG&E at this point because the utility needs its bankruptcy plan to be blessed by the state by June 30 to qualify for coverage from a wildfire insurance fund created by California last summer. The Democratic governor so far has rejected PG&E's blueprint as unacceptable, partly because he believes the company is taking on too much debt to afford the necessary upgrades to its system. The tensions could eventually play out in bankruptcy court, where Newsom's lawyers have indicated they may want to grill PG&E about its finances. The projections released Tuesday envision PG&E rebounding this year with a profit of $454 million, with a slight 2021 loss caused by some accounting provisions stemming from its bankruptcy. By 2024, PG&E expects to post a full-year profit of nearly $2.4 billion. By comparison, it earned nearly $1.7 billion in 2017 before it was hit by the first wave of wildfire claims. As part of its recovery, PG&E is counting on a big helping hand from the roughly 16 million Northern Californians in the utility's sprawling service territory. The forecast envisions rates rising by 8% each year through 2024, far faster than the expected rate of inflation. And as it makes more money, PG&E is also promising to spend $37 billion to $41 billion on equipment upgrades and other improvements during the five-year period. To pay for that, in addition to the money owed to wildfire victims, PG&E plans to issue nearly $16 billion in additional stock and take on $38 billion in debt as part of its bankruptcy plan. The debt will cause PG&E's annual interest payments to rise by 50% between this year through 2024 when it will be doling out about $2 billion to its lenders, according to the company's projections. Investors' growing optimism about PG&E's ability to bounce back from bankruptcy has already lifted the company's stock by about 50% so far this year. The shares slipped 11 cents to $16.09 Tuesday. The stock peaked at $71.57 in September 2017 before PG&E's wildfire losses sent the company into a downward spiral.
  • New York Yankees star Aaron Judge feels the Houston Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series championship. “You cheated and you didn't earn it.,” Judge said Tuesday after the Yankees' first full-squad workout. “That's how I feel. It wasn't earned. It wasn't earned the way of playing the game right and fighting to the end and knowing that we're competing, we're competitors. The biggest thing about competition is laying it all out on the line, and whoever is the better player, better person comes out on top. To know that another team had an advantage that, nothing you can really guard against, I just don't feel like that's earned.” Major League Baseball concluded the Astros used a video camera to steal catcher's signs in 2017, including during the postseason, and in 2018. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season each, then were fired by the team. Houston was fined $5 million and stripped of its next two first- and second-round draft picks. Houston beat the Yankees in a seven-game AL Championship Series in 2017, winning all four home games, and defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. Judge backed the position of Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish, who felt the penalties imposed by baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred were insufficient. “I think Darvish was the one that said, if you're playing in the Olympics and win a gold medal and find that you cheated, you don't get to keep that medal.” Judge agreed with teammate Gleyber Torres, who said on Monday that he felt the Astros also cheated in 2019 when the Yankees lost the AL Championship Series in six games. “To think that they cheated and won it all in '17, to think that they just clear-cut stopped '19 or '18, it's tough for me to say that,” Judge said. But we'll never really now, to be honest.' Manfred said Sunday he wasn't 100% sure the Astros didn't violate rules in 2019 but it was his best judgment that they didn't.. Judge did not hit or throw during the Yankees first full-squad workout because of what the team said was a minor right shoulder issue. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said the problem is not considered serious and Judge could start to ramp up activities in a couple days. Judge is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 'Just dealing with some crankiness, a little soreness in his shoulder,' Boone said. “I feel like it's a pretty minor thing. Just something we wanted to try and get ahead of while we're at this point at this point in the calendar.” Judge had a number of tests, including an MRI, and did conditioning. The outfielder hit .272 with 27 homers with 55 RBIs in 102 games last season. He was on the injured list from April 21 to June 21 with a left oblique strain. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/ML B and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • After more than three decades on death row, Don Johnson weighed the options for his own demise: He could keep a promise to his daughter that he wouldn't die in the electric chair. Or, he could opt for the chair and avoid a method that he had heard might make him feel like he was being buried alive. Last May, Johnson was strapped to a gurney and hooked up to an IV. He said a prayer and started singing as toxic drugs flowed into his body. Then came sounds resembling snoring or gurgling and gasping. Finally, after a high-pitched noise, he fell silent. Johnson, who was convicted of suffocating his wife, was put to death by lethal injection, a method adopted by most states after the electric chair began losing public favor. However, the three-drug combination used by Tennessee and some other states has come under attack by attorneys for death row inmates who say it can cause intense suffering. Most states have gotten rid of the electric chair, meaning the only option for most inmates across the country is lethal injection.That's not the case in Tennessee, one of nine states that still allow electrocution, and one of six that allow inmates to choose which way they will die, according to the national Death Penalty Information Center. In Tennessee, 38 of the state's 53 death row inmates — those whose crimes predated Jan. 1, 1999 — not only know when they are going to die, but will have a hand in picking the method of their execution. “We are putting people in a cage for a number of years telling them that they are going to be killed and making them choose one of two ways,' noted Joe Ingle, a United Church of Christ minister in Nashville who has spent years ministering to death row inmates. Inmates' attorneys have argued that both lethal injection and electrocution are forms of punishment that violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. So the choice for inmates is a nearly impossible one. “They know one is going to knock them out,' said Dan Mann, a talent booking agent who has been protesting the death penalty in Tennessee and has visited the state's death row several times a month for nine years. 'The other one, they may just suffer.” Since Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018 — a pace topped only by Texas —5 of 7 inmates have chosen the electric chair. The fifth is Nicholas Sutton, scheduled to die on Feb. 20 for the 1985 murder of a fellow inmate. Other than Tennessee, the last state to carry out an electrocution was Virginia, in 2013. “We know that electrocutions have failed. We know that flames could erupt at any moment,' Henry said. 'We know that the organsare burned. ... But isit better to experience one to five minutes of an electrocution than a potential 15-to-20-minute lethal injection? Who can know?” Complicating the situation, Henry said,is that if inmates speak out publicly about the decision they face, “it could be misconstrued as exercising a choice and thus a waiver of their right to challenge what are unquestionably torturous forms of execution.' Victims advocatesand the family members of those who died at the hands of condemned inmates have little sympathy. The inmates' difficult choice, they say, is nothing compared to the pain and suffering their victims experienced. Lee Hall was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Traci Crozier. Hall 'executed her and she had no choice,” Crozier's sister Staci Wooten told a reporter ahead of the inmate's execution by electrocution on Dec. 5. Still, attorneys for the inmates have questioned how effectively the state Department of Correction has kept inmates informed about the daunting choices confronting them. The three drugs used for lethal execution in Tennessee are midazolam, a sedative; vecuronium bromide, a paralytic; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Officials have said midazolam renders an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain. But during a legal challenge to the protocol, expert witnesses for inmates testified in July 2018 that midazolam wouldn't prevent inmates from feeling pain. They also said Tennessee's three-drug combination would cause sensations of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning while rendering them unable to move or call out. In now public court documents, Henry contended that Sutton and Tennessee inmates executed by electrocution were not informed about a problem with the final drug, potassium chloride,which Henry likened to “injecting rocks into the veins.” A heavily redacted email from the state Department of Correction that was included in Henry's court filing showed the problem arose several months after Johnson's execution, leaving unanswered the question of whether his batch of drugs was tainted, and if the issue has been since addressed. A separate email from November said Tennessee was having a “difficult time” obtaining the paralytic drug, vecuronium bromide. The state has not said whether that problem was resolved. It took a change of heart for Johnson to pick lethal injection. Several years before his 2019 execution date, he had quietly selected the electric chair after determining it was the more expedient and humane option, according to his spiritual adviser, John Dysinger. He reversed course after reconciling with his daughter, Cynthia Vaughn, who had previously declared she wanted “the freak to burn” but later said she could not bear the risk of a botched electrocution. “For him the choice was one last act of love,' Henry said. 'Should I have talked him out of it? I don’t know.” Dysinger said Johnson hoped dying by lethal injection would help answer some of the questions about the drugs used to kill inmates. “He was willing to go through that if his execution could somehow make it better for those on death row,” Dysinger said. “In many ways, death was a relief.
  • Small business owners have received some upbeat news on the economy this month. Retail sales figures released Friday showed that consumers were inspired by unseasonably warm weather to spend on their homes in January, but that overall sales growth was modest. The Commerce Department reported a 0.3% gain last month following a 0.2% gain in December. Although economists called the report disappointing, they noted that more consumers are working, a good omen for higher retail sales in the coming months. January employment reports from the Labor Department and payroll processor ADP showed strong job growth at companies of all sizes. The ADP report also showed that small businesses are joining larger companies in stepping up their hiring. ADP's business customers with up to 49 staffers added 94,000 jobs in January after creating 66,000 positions in December. The two-month showing was a big improvement over the nearly 31,600 new jobs ADP counted on average each month in 2019. In 2018, the monthly average was 52,000. Nearly a third of the new jobs in the January count were at manufacturers, ADP said. Business owners may be ready to take more risks after curtailing their hiring last year, and manufacturers who were being squeezed by the Trump administration's trade tariffs are likely feeling more optimistic after the U.S. and China signed a truce agreement. Owners held back amid uncertainty about the economy last year, and a tight labor market made it hard for many owners to find qualified job candidates. The coronavirus that has infected more than 73,000 people globally could hurt many small businesses if the outbreak is prolonged. Some small companies have reported they've lost business because of the outbreak. And others are struggling to find components for manufacturing and merchandise for stores because factories in China were shut, first because of the weeks-long Lunar New Year holiday and then due to the virus. _____ Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg. Her work can be found here: https://apnews.com
  • In a party that’s shifted leftward on abortion rights, Democratic presidential hopefuls are offering different approaches to a central challenge: how to talk to voters without a clear home in the polarizing debate over the government’s role in the decision to end a pregnancy. While Bernie Sanders said this month that “being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” his presidential primary opponent Amy Klobuchar took a more open stance last week in saying that anti-abortion Democrats “are part of our party.” Klobuchar's perfect voting score from major abortion-rights groups makes her an unlikely ally, but some abortion opponents nonetheless lauded the Minnesota senator for extending a hand to those on the other side of an issue that’s especially important for Catholics and other devout voters. The praise for Klobuchar suggests that Democrats who have heeded rising worry within their base about GOP-backed abortion limits by pitching significant new abortion-rights policies may risk alienating religious voters who are otherwise open to supporting their party over President Donald Trump. Voters in that group looking for an appeal to “common ground” on abortion, as former President Barack Obama put it during his 2008 campaign, have heard few of those statements during the current Democratic primary. “Plenty of pro-life Catholics are looking for an alternative to voting for President Trump,” said Kim Daniels, associate director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. “We wish the Democratic Party would offer us an alternative instead of doubling down on support for abortion throughout pregnancy, taxpayer funding and the like.” Klobuchar has underscored her abortion-rights support, and she's signed onto legislation that would limit states' efforts to constrain abortion access, such as the multiple state-level anti-abortion laws that passed last year. But Daniels described Klobuchar's rhetorical openness to working with abortion opponents as “an important step,” and she’s not alone. Chris Crawford, a pro-life activist who tweeted about Klobuchar’s welcoming response to him during a recent event in New Hampshire, said that “I don’t like” the senator’s abortion record or positions, “but I do like the work she’s doing on adoptions.” “And if she’s serious about putting together an agenda that can provide for mothers ... that would make a big difference for me and other voters I know,” added the Catholic Crawford, who said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but has not yet decided who he's supporting in 2020. Religion is not the only factor motivating potential Democratic voters who favor some degree of abortion limits -- Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day pointed out in an interview that atheists are part of her coalition. But abortion restriction is still a priority for a sizable number of Catholics, even as Pope Francis orients the church toward a more expansive definition of the term “pro-life,' pressing President Donald Trump on some of his immigration policies. An AP-NORC poll taken in December found that 45% of Catholics backed significant restrictions that would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to a mother’s life. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, 17% said that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, a number that rises to 25% among self-identified conservative or moderate Democrats, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year. The abortion debate is set to return to the political forefront next month, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in a high-profile challenge to a Louisiana state law, authored by an anti-abortion Democratic lawmaker, which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. A final decision is anticipated by June. Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University who recently left the board of Democrats for Life in frustration over what he saw as the party's absolutist approach to abortion, asserted that “something is missing” when the same blanket “pro-choice” terminology can be used to apply to both Klobuchar and Sanders. A Democratic candidate willing to focus on common ground could have “a golden opportunity to meet pro-lifers, or at least religious people who are mildly pro-choice,” Camosy said. However, Klobuchar’s comments left some abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists cold. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted that the Minnesota senator is “still extreme & out-of-touch,” pointing to her record of abortion-rights votes, and Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, warned Klobuchar against “giving credence to right-wing red herrings.” Hogue said in an interview that under the umbrella of abortion-rights advocacy, she sees room for shared values of “compassion and freedom” as well as different feelings about the decision to terminate a pregnancy. “Where we are in common service together,” Hogue said, is that “none of us ever want anyone to feel like they have to terminate a pregnancy because they will not get the support they need to parent.” Hogue also underscored the sharp contrast between Democrats and the GOP, where Trump has embraced anti-abortion policies and burnished his standing with religious conservatives as a result. That distance between the parties has grown in recent years, with fewer anti-abortion Democrats serving in Congress and two straight Democratic platforms adopting stronger language on abortion rights. Indeed, Sanders described abortion-rights support as “essential” this month but took flak from some abortion-rights advocates in 2017 for backing an anti-abortion Catholic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska. Anti-abortion Democrats are not wholly extinct, with the Catholic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards winning reelection last year, but two such members of Congress are facing primary challenges from the left. In this year’s Democratic presidential primary, Klobuchar’s inclusive language marked a rare instance of daylight between candidates in an abortion debate that's already put pressure on her rivals. When pressed on abortion by executive director Day of Democrats for Life during a Fox News town hall last month, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that “I support the position of my party that this kind of medical care needs to be available to everyone.” Joe Biden, a Catholic who last year reversed his stance to back unrestricted federal funding for abortions, was denied communion by one South Carolina priest last fall in response to the former vice president’s support for abortion rights. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for her part, said at November's debate that safeguarding abortion rights is “fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party' and demurred when pressed about whether an abortion opponent like Bel Edwards would be welcome. Like those Democrats, Klobuchar supports codifying the abortion-rights protections of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision into law. And for some anti-abortion voters, inclusive language like Klobuchar's may not be enough to overcome that substantive Democratic alignment. Klobuchar’s handling of the issue is “going to make her look much more moderate” and could break through with potentially persuadable Catholic voters, said Robert George, a Princeton University professor and past GOP appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. But that advantage can be “undercut” by Klobuchar's abortion-rights votes, George added, which Trump's campaign would seek to do. __ Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.