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  • Mercury is putting on a rare celestial show next week, parading across the sun in view of most of the world. The entire 5 ½-hour event will be visible, weather permitting, in the eastern U.S. and Canada, and all Central and South America. The rest of North America, Europe and Africa will catch part of the action. Asia and Australia will miss out. Unlike its 2016 transit, Mercury will score a near bull’s-eye this time, passing practically dead center in front of our star. Mercury’s next transit isn’t until 2032, and North America won’t get another viewing opportunity until 2049. Earthlings get treated to just 13 or 14 Mercury transits a century. You’ll need proper eye protection for Monday’s spectacle: Telescopes or binoculars with solar filters are recommended. There’s no harm in pulling out the eclipse glasses from the total solar eclipse across the U.S. two years ago, but it would take “exceptional vision” to spot minuscule Mercury, said NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young.
  • A man is accused of abusing a two-month old child. Tulsa police say the baby's mother had left the child at home with its father 23-year old Martrell Thames Friday while she went to the store. When she returned, paramedics were treating the baby for cardiac arrest. Thames said he had put the girl down, but found her unresponsive. Emergency room doctors Saturday said the girl had suffered severe closed head injuries, injury to her torso and is not expected to survive. Thames was arrested for child abuse by injury at the Deerfield Estates apartments near 8800 South Delaware Avenue.
  • Just days before impeachment hearings are set to begin the U.S. House, President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress continued to be on different pathways when it comes to defending the President's conduct, as Mr. Trump on Sunday again maintained that he did nothing wrong in his phone call with the leader of Ukraine. 'The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT,' Mr. Trump tweeted from Trump Tower in New York. 'Read the Transcript!' But Democrats said the transcript showed behavior which was not acceptable - and there were some GOP lawmakers agreeing in part. 'I believe it was inappropriate,' Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said of the President's request in a July phone call for the government of Ukraine to launch investigations which would have benefited Mr. Trump politically.  'I do not believe it was impeachable,' Thornberry said on ABC's 'This Week.' Mr. Trump argued specifically against that. 'Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable,' he tweeted. The White House document detailing the call - which is not a full, word for word transcript - shows the President clearly asking the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of Vice President Biden, along with probing the assertion that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats in the 2016 elections. While the White House and Republicans tried to sort out their impeachment arguments, Democrats were blasting the GOP. 'Witness testimony shows that everybody involved in the President’s pressure campaign knew what he wanted,' said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-I), 'political investigations to undermine our free and fair elections.' 'Republicans cried for weeks for open & public impeachment inquiry hearings,' said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA). 'Now that public hearings begin this week, Trump & GOP don’t want them.
  • U.S. health officials announced a breakthrough Friday into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a 'very strong culprit.' The same chemical compound was found in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The compound — vitamin E acetate — was previously found in liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many of those who got sick. But this is the first time they've found a common suspect in the damaged lungs of patients, officials said. 'We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,' said the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat. Agency officials cautioned they cannot rule out all other toxic substances, and it may take animal studies to clearly show vitamin E acetate causes the lung damage that's been seen. More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teen and young adults, and at least 40 people have died. The bulk of the cases occurred in August and September but new cases are still being reported. Vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. While vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful. It's sticky and stays in the lungs — the CDC's Dr. Jim Pirkle likened it to honey. Many who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing part of marijuana, with many saying they got them from friends or bought them on the black market. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices heat a liquid into an inhalable vapor. Most products contained nicotine, but THC vaping has been growing more common. Pirkle said thickeners like vitamin E acetate probably would not be routinely added to nicotine liquids, which need to be more watery for vaping. Juul Labs, maker of the top-selling brand of e-cigarette, issued a statement after the CDC announcement, noting that its nicotine products do not contain THC or any vitamin E compounds. Symptoms of the vaping illness include trouble breathing, chest pain, fatigue and vomiting. Imaging tests show lung injuries and doctors can't find infections or other causes. About two months ago, New York drew attention to vitamin E acetate when the state's public health lab discovered it in samples of vaping products from sick patients. In some instances, it made up more than half of the liquid in the cartridges. The chemical has shown up in tests in other labs, too, including a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab in Cincinnati that found vitamin E acetate in half of the more than 400 THC samples. For the latest test, the CDC used fluid extracted from the lungs of 29 patients in 10 states, including two who died. Lab workers looked for a range of substances that had been found in various vaping devices, including nicotine, THC and other marijuana components, plant oils, mineral oil and cutting agents used on the black market. It was an exhaustive list of more than 1,000, said Pirkle, who oversees agency's chemical analysis labs. The one substance that came up in all 29 was vitamin E acetate. 'To me what's important here is both what they found, and what they didn't find' said Scott Becker, head of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. 'This was the only thing they found.' Portland State University's Robert Strongin, who's researched e-cigarettes, welcomed the CDC report but cautioned it doesn't mean other ingredients in vaping products are safe. 'They still could cause long-term harm,' he said. The CDC's Pirkle said animal testing is now a priority and might produce results within a year. 'We really need the animal study to nail down cause and effect,' he said. __ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • Republicans on Saturday submitted an impeachment hearing witness list to Democrats which includes the son of Vice President Joe Biden, along with the intelligence community whistleblower who initially touched off questions about President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to launch certain investigations to help Mr. Trump's 2020 election bid. In a five page letter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) blasted the process involved in the impeachment process, labeling it a 'one-sided and purely political' effort against President Trump. 'Americans see through this sham impeachment process, despite the Democrats' efforts to retroactively legitimize it last week,' Nunes wrote, referring to a House vote to approve plans for the impeachment inquiry opposed by GOP lawmakers. The GOP request named eight specific witnesses: + Hunter Biden, son of the former Vice President. + Devon Archer, tied to Biden through a Ukraine energy company. + Alexandra Chalupa, a former DNC staffer. + David Hale, the third-ranking State Department official, who testified behind closed doors on November 6. + Tim Morrison, National Security Council official who testified on October 31. + Nellie Ohr, a frequent target of the GOP from the Russia investigation. + Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who was the first witness deposed by Congress. + The whistleblower who brought the Ukraine issue to officials in the U.S. Intelligence Community. On his way to the Alabama-LSU college football game on Saturday, President Trump added his own jabs at Democrats, saying he would likely release the transcript of another phone call with the leader of Ukraine next week. 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' the President tweeted, in a familiar complaint about the Russia investigation. The GOP letter also asks to hear publicly from 'All individuals relied upon by the anonymous whistleblower in drafting his or her secondhand complaint.' It was not clear how many witnesses would be approved by Democrats; as of now, it's not known how long the hearings will go, or how many public sessions will be conducted. 'We expect that you will call each of the witnesses listed above to ensure that the Democrats' 'impeachment inquiry' treats the President with fairness,' Nunes wrote. You can read the GOP letter at this link. The immediate reaction from Democrats did not seem positive for the GOP effort to call Hunter Biden and others. 'This inquiry is not, and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit,' Schiff wrote in a Saturday afternoon response.

Washington Insider

  • Just days before impeachment hearings are set to begin the U.S. House, President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress continued to be on different pathways when it comes to defending the President's conduct, as Mr. Trump on Sunday again maintained that he did nothing wrong in his phone call with the leader of Ukraine. 'The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT,' Mr. Trump tweeted from Trump Tower in New York. 'Read the Transcript!' But Democrats said the transcript showed behavior which was not acceptable - and there were some GOP lawmakers agreeing in part. 'I believe it was inappropriate,' Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said of the President's request in a July phone call for the government of Ukraine to launch investigations which would have benefited Mr. Trump politically.  'I do not believe it was impeachable,' Thornberry said on ABC's 'This Week.' Mr. Trump argued specifically against that. 'Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable,' he tweeted. The White House document detailing the call - which is not a full, word for word transcript - shows the President clearly asking the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of Vice President Biden, along with probing the assertion that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats in the 2016 elections. While the White House and Republicans tried to sort out their impeachment arguments, Democrats were blasting the GOP. 'Witness testimony shows that everybody involved in the President’s pressure campaign knew what he wanted,' said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-I), 'political investigations to undermine our free and fair elections.' 'Republicans cried for weeks for open & public impeachment inquiry hearings,' said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA). 'Now that public hearings begin this week, Trump & GOP don’t want them.
  • Republicans on Saturday submitted an impeachment hearing witness list to Democrats which includes the son of Vice President Joe Biden, along with the intelligence community whistleblower who initially touched off questions about President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to launch certain investigations to help Mr. Trump's 2020 election bid. In a five page letter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) blasted the process involved in the impeachment process, labeling it a 'one-sided and purely political' effort against President Trump. 'Americans see through this sham impeachment process, despite the Democrats' efforts to retroactively legitimize it last week,' Nunes wrote, referring to a House vote to approve plans for the impeachment inquiry opposed by GOP lawmakers. The GOP request named eight specific witnesses: + Hunter Biden, son of the former Vice President. + Devon Archer, tied to Biden through a Ukraine energy company. + Alexandra Chalupa, a former DNC staffer. + David Hale, the third-ranking State Department official, who testified behind closed doors on November 6. + Tim Morrison, National Security Council official who testified on October 31. + Nellie Ohr, a frequent target of the GOP from the Russia investigation. + Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who was the first witness deposed by Congress. + The whistleblower who brought the Ukraine issue to officials in the U.S. Intelligence Community. On his way to the Alabama-LSU college football game on Saturday, President Trump added his own jabs at Democrats, saying he would likely release the transcript of another phone call with the leader of Ukraine next week. 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' the President tweeted, in a familiar complaint about the Russia investigation. The GOP letter also asks to hear publicly from 'All individuals relied upon by the anonymous whistleblower in drafting his or her secondhand complaint.' It was not clear how many witnesses would be approved by Democrats; as of now, it's not known how long the hearings will go, or how many public sessions will be conducted. 'We expect that you will call each of the witnesses listed above to ensure that the Democrats' 'impeachment inquiry' treats the President with fairness,' Nunes wrote. You can read the GOP letter at this link. The immediate reaction from Democrats did not seem positive for the GOP effort to call Hunter Biden and others. 'This inquiry is not, and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit,' Schiff wrote in a Saturday afternoon response.
  • Just days before the start of public impeachment hearings, Congressional Republicans on Friday shuffled the GOP membership on the House Intelligence Committee, adding Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of the most vocal and staunch defenders of President Donald Trump. 'I am appointing @Jim_Jordan to the Intelligence Committee — which has now become the Impeachment Committee — where he will continue fighting for fairness and truth,' tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Friday. Jordan has routinely been one of the more outspoken defenders of the President on a host of issues. 'No quid pro quo whatsoever,' he told reporters earlier this week about allegations that President Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in an effort to get the government to start several investigations which could give political help to Mr. Trump's re-election bid in 2020. In order for Jordan to be added to the panel, Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas will step aside; he submitted a resignation letter for his committee slot, which was read on the House floor on Friday afternoon. “I look forward to rejoining my colleagues on HPSCI when this impeachment hoax has concluded and we return to the important work and oversight of the Intelligence Community that the committee is intended for,” Crawford said. The switch involving Jordan came as Democrats released the transcripts of closed door depositions with two more witnesses, former White House aide Fiona Hill, and National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. One of the few aides who listened to a July 25 phone call between President Trump and the leader of Ukraine, Vindman said there was no question in his mind that President Trump was holding back military aid for Ukraine in order to get the government to start investigations which could benefit Mr. Trump's re-election. “And was there any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliverable?” asked Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT). “There was no doubt,” Vindman answered. In a separate deposition, Hill - who served as a Russia expert for the Trump White House until just a few months ago - said national security experts like herself had been subjected to false conspiracy theories and death threats to paint them as opponents of President Trump. 'My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again,' Hill testified. 'I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, ca1ls at my home,' Hill added. 'My neighbors reported somebody coming and hammering on my door.' Hill blamed the back channel actions of President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for the escalating pressure on Ukraine to investigate the son of Joe Biden, and a debunked theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats during the 2016 elections. 'I didn't know exactly what Mr. Giuliani was doing,' Hill said. 'So we are now living my worst nightmare.' Watching Giuliani discuss Ukraine-related issues on television, Hill said the President's lawyer seemed to be separated from reality. “He seemed at times to actually believe some of the things he was saying that I knew to be untrue,” Hill testified. Hill's testimony is at this link. Vindman's testimony is available here.
  • Ignoring the verbal barbs and Twitter attacks leveled against him by President Donald Trump, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has started his campaign to regain his old Senate seat - which reportedly has irked the President - by heaping praise on President Trump. In a 30 second video unveiled on Thursday titled, 'Great Job,' Sessions said he hasn't criticized the President, because he agrees with Mr. Trump's agenda. 'Did I write a tell all book?' Sessions says in the ad. 'Have I said a cross word about our President? Not one time.' 'The President is doing a great job for America, and Alabama, and he has my strong support,' Sessions says in the video released on Thursday night. Tucked into that advertisement is a snippet of video from a late February 2016 rally in Madison, Alabama, where Sessions became the first sitting GOP Senator to endorse Mr. Trump, just as he was poised to grab control of the race for the Republican nomination. 'At this time in American history, we need to make America great again,' Sessions said to cheers of 'USA! USA!' from the crowd. That early support resulted in Sessions being brought in as a top adviser for the President, and ultimately the Alabama Senator would become U.S. Attorney General. But it was in that post that Sessions infuriated the President by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, as President Trump belittled Sessions repeatedly, until Sessions was finally pushed out, the morning after the 2018 mid-term elections. 'Sessions didn't have a clue,' the President tweeted in March. 'The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself,' Mr. Trump tweeted in June of 2018.  'I would have quickly picked someone else,' the President added. In recent weeks, as Sessions has made clear he wanted to run to regain his seat in the U.S. Senate, GOP Senators have made clear to their former colleague that he does not have the backing of the President at this point. Sessions enters what's already a crowded Republican Primary, as the GOP looks to defeat Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), a Democrat who won an improbable victory to replace Sessions, as he defeated GOP nominee Roy Moore, who had been beset by a variety of sexual misconduct allegations. The GOP lineup right now includes not only Moore, but also former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), along with the Alabama Secretary of State, the state Auditor, another state Representative, and several other candidates. It would not be the first time that Sessions has taken an unusual route to the U.S. Senate; in 1986, Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge by President Reagan, but after a spirited debate with strong opposition from Democrats, Sessions was forced to withdraw. Sessions had the last laugh, as he returned to Alabama and ran for the U.S. Senate, winning in 1996 - then serving alongside many of the Democratic Senators who had opposed his nomination to the federal bench.
  • A series of emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request show that National Weather Service forecasters publicly knocked down talk that Hurricane Dorian might threaten the Alabama Gulf Coast without knowing that President Donald Trump had heightened concerns by mentioning a possible threat to the Yellowhammer State twenty minutes earlier. 'The day shift did not know what precipitated this escalation in calls/social media questions,' wrote Chris Darden, in charge of the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama. 'It was later learned that the uptick in calls/concern regarding Alabama may have been related to a White House tweet earlier in the day,' Darden told others by email on Sunday, September 1. 'It was directly in response to the increase in calls from anxious and panicked citizens,' Darden wrote. The calls led the Birmingham office to send out a tweet, twenty minutes after the President wrongly included Alabama as being under a direct threat from Hurricane Dorian. In a series of agency emails made public this week, the Birmingham, Alabama office - and other Weather Service officials - repeatedly say that the forecasters had no idea they were getting worried calls and messages because of the President's tweet. 'Some in media assumed, understandably so, that our social media posts were a direct response to the WH (White House) post,' Darden wrote in an email. 'In fact, they were not as we were not even aware of them at the time.' But as the news media focused on the matter - and the President refused to back down in the days after the tweets - by that Friday, officials issued a public rebuke of the Birmingham office. 'The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time,' the statement read. The dustup ultimately led to President Trump presenting a weather map in his defense, which included an extra area - marked by a black marker - to show that there was a threat to Alabama. Other emails made public from the Weather Service included complaints from fellow employees about the public rebuke of the Birmingham office. “This statement is deeply upsetting to NOAA employees that have worked the hurricane and not fully accurate based on the timeline in question,” wrote one NOAA worker in Maryland. Also included were angry emails from people outside of the Weather Service, who accused NOAA officials of giving in to the President. “You should resign immediately,” one woman wrote. “You should make yourself legit by getting a job in Trump's reelection campaign.” You can find all the emails released by NOAA at this link.