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Associated Press

Trump jabs back at ‘wacky’ congresswoman as spat rolls on

Unwilling to put the tussling behind, President Donald Trump on Saturday jabbed back at the Democratic lawmaker who has slammed him for his words of condolence to a military widow, calling Rep. Frederica Wilson “wacky” and contending she is “killing” her party.

Trump’s broadside came a day after the White House defended chief of staff John Kelly after he mischaracterized Wilson’s remarks and called her an “empty barrel” making noise. A Trump spokeswoman said it was “inappropriate” to question Kelly in light of his stature as a retired four-star general.

The fight between Trump and the Miami-area Democrat began Tuesday said Trump told the pregnant widow of a service member killed in the African nation of Niger that her 25-year-old husband “knew what he signed up for.” Wilson was riding with the family of family of Sgt. La David Johnson to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone.

The administration has attempted to insist that it’s long past time to end the political squabbling over Trump’s compassion for America’s war dead.

But Trump added to the volley of insults with his tweet on Saturday morning: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!” That came after she had added a new element by suggesting a racial context.

His tweet came hours before mourners were to attend Johnson’s funeral in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Kelly asserted that the congresswoman had delivered a 2015 speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” rather than keeping the focus on the fallen agents for which it was named. Video of the speech contradicted his recollection.

Wilson, in an interview Friday with The New York Times, brought race into the dispute.

“The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” said Wilson, who is black, as is the Florida family Trump had called in a condolence effort this week that led to the back-and-forth name calling.

Trump, in an interview with Fox Business Network, then called Wilson’s criticism of Kelly “sickening.” He also said he had had a “very nice call,” with the late sergeant’s family.

The spat started when Wilson told reporters that Trump had insulted the family of Johnson, who was killed two weeks ago in Niger. She was fabricating that, Trump said. The soldier’s widow and aunt said no, it was the president who was fibbing.

Then Kelly strode out in the White House briefing room on Thursday, backing up the president and suggesting Wilson was just grandstanding – as he said she had at the FBI dedication in 2015.

After news accounts took issue with part of that last accusation, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised reporters for questioning the account of a decorated general.

“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

Video of the FBI office dedication in Miami, from the archives of South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, shows that Wilson never mentioned the building’s funding, though she did recount at length her efforts to help name the building in honor of the special agents.

That did nothing to deter Sanders, who said “If you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”

Sanders also used a dismissive Southwest rancher’s term, calling Wilson, who often wears elaborate hats, “all hat and no cattle.”

Wilson was in the car with the family of Johnson, who died in an Oct. 4 ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger, when Trump called to express his condolences on Tuesday. She said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it … but it still hurts.” Johnson’s aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.

The Defense Department is investigating the details of the Niger ambush, in which Islamic militants on motorcycles brought rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, killing the four and wounding others. The FBI said it is assisting, as it has in the past when American citizens are killed overseas.

Sanders said Friday that if the “spirit” in which Trump’s comments “were intended were misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate.”

Senate withholding secret emails linked to website

The Florida Senate is refusing to turn over dozens of emails involving a state budget website that was shuttered despite taxpayers paying $5 million for it so far.

The contractor that built the website has sued the Senate for a final payment of $500,000. While the case moves along, attorneys for both sides are arguing over what information should be turned over in the case.

Attorneys representing the Senate are withholding more than 50 emails sent between Senate employees, as well as some Republican senators.

The emails deal with a website that was supposed to help the public understand the state budget. Legislative officials say it didn’t work as intended and never went online.

In court filings this month, Senate attorneys contend the emails are privileged information or work product.

Richard Spencer undeterred by boos on latest college stop

The hostile audience drowned out white nationalist Richard Spencer with anti-Nazi chants. They booed him off the stage under the watchful eye of police officers in riot gear.

In other words, Spencer sees his speech Thursday at the University of Florida as a smashing success.

“I’m very happy with what happened in the sense of the (public relations) victory,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “But at the same time, it’s a little frustrating and a little sad that I wasn’t able to talk to people.”

Once an obscure figure in a fringe movement, Spencer has become a household name thanks in part to his infamous “Hail Trump!” toast, a videotaped punch to his head and the bloodshed at a Virginia rally where he was a headliner.

But his notoriety, amplified by social media and mainstream news coverage, far exceeds his modest following of tiki torch-bearing racists and anti-Semites.

Protesters vastly outnumbered Spencer’s supporters at the University of Florida on Thursday, his first campus appearance since the deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. A woman was struck and killed by a car that plowed into a crowd of counter protesters after authorities broke up the “Unite the Right” rally.

In Florida, police flooded Gainesville after the governor declared a state of emergency ahead of Spencer’s event.

Facing a massive backlash after the Charlottesville violence, Spencer and other leading figures in the “alt-right” movement have portrayed themselves as champions of free speech and victims of political correctness. Over the past six months, Spencer’s supporters have sued three universities for refusing to let him speak there. A lawyer aligned with Spencer has threatened to sue others.

Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said campus speeches are a “tried-and-true tactic to get attention” for Spencer and other far-right figures.

“He’s choosing the places that will elicit a visceral reaction, perhaps some sort of legal battle. And he embraces that because he knows it’s going to underscore his ideology,” Segal said.

Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a movement that’s a loosely connected mix of racism, white nationalism and anti-immigration views. He has advocated for an “ethno-state” that would be a “safe space” for white people.\

Last November, after Donald Trump’s election, Spencer hosted a conference in Washington that ended with audience members mimicking Nazi salutes after Spencer shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”

In January, Spencer was in Washington for Trump’s inauguration when a masked man punched him in the head during a videotaped interview, footage that quickly spread on the internet.

Buoyed by a wave of publicity, Spencer announced plans for a college tour earlier this year. Spencer said he thought the tour would be “easy” and he could simply “call people up and I would come and speak to students.”

“There are roadblocks at every place along the way,” he said Thursday.

In April, Auburn University tried to cancel his speech, but a federal judge ruled in Spencer’s favor after a lawyer sued the school on behalf of Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who booked a room for Spencer.

More recently, Padgett and another surrogate tried to book events for Spencer at Ohio State University, Michigan State University, Penn State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Cincinnati and Louisiana State University. So far, only the University of Florida and the University of Cincinnati agreed to let him speak.

LSU President F. King Alexander cited the Charlottesville violence in explaining why Spencer wasn’t welcome.

“LSU is not changing policies but rather following the law, which allows us to protect our students from imminent threats of violence,” Alexander said in a statement over the summer.

Spencer’s allies recently sued Michigan State and Penn State in federal courts, accusing them of violating Spencer’s First Amendment rights.

Michigan-based attorney Kyle Bristow, who helped draft the lawsuits, said they don’t want to become “First Amendment martyrs” but feel unfairly targeted after Charlottesville. He pointed to the takedown of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that has struggled to stay online since it mocked the woman killed in the car attack.

“Once Charlottesville happened, corporate America and the government began to crack down on the alt-right,” Bristow said. “The First Amendment isn’t changed because of one protest or one rally. Everybody has a right to exercise free speech.”

Hurricanes, earthquakes estimated to cost insurers $95B

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as two recent earthquakes in Mexico likely cost the insurance industry about $95 billion, said Swiss Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurers.

The Zurich-based company, which as a reinsurer provides backup policies to companies that write primary insurance policies, said Friday that the claims process is ongoing and estimates could evolve.

Swiss Re expects its own payouts linked to the natural disasters will be about $3.6 billion, including $175 million for the Mexico earthquakes alone.

A company statement didn’t break down the costs by hurricane. In an e-mail, Swiss Re’s vice president for communications, Willy-Andreas Heckmann, said the company would provide further details with its third-quarter results report next week.

CEO Christian Mumenthaler called the catastrophes “extremely powerful” and said Swiss Re “can support our clients when they need us most.”

Reinsurance, a sort of insurance for insurers, helps spread risk so that the system can handle large losses from natural disasters.

What Puerto Rico is doing to get the power back after the storm

Electrical linemen descend from helicopters, balancing on steel girders 90 feet high on transmission towers in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, far from any road.

At the same time, crews fan out across the battered island, erecting light poles and power lines in a block by block slog.

A month after Hurricane Maria rolled across the center of Puerto Rico, the power is still out for the vast majority of people on the island as the work to restore hundreds of miles of transmission lines and thousands of miles of distribution lines grinds on for crews toiling under a blazing tropical sun.

And it won’t get done soon without more workers, more equipment and more money, according to everyone involved in the effort.

“It’s too much for us alone,” Nelson Velez, a regional director for the Puerto Rican power authority, said as he supervised crews working along a busy street in Isla Verde, just east of San Juan, on a recent afternoon. “We have just so many, so many areas affected.”

The office of Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that about 20 percent of the island has service and he has pledged to get that to 95 percent by Dec. 31. For now, though, most of the island’s 3.4 million people suffer without air conditioning or basic necessities. Many have resorted to using washboards, now frequently seen for sale along the side of the road, to clean clothes, and sleeping on their balconies and flocking to any open restaurants for relief from daytime temperatures above 90 degrees.

“I thought we would we have power in the metro area by now,” said Pablo Martinez, an air conditioning technician, shaking his head in frustration.

Hurricane Maria, which caused at least 48 deaths on the island, made landfall on the southeastern coast near Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of about 154 mph (248 kph). It passed out of the territory about 12 hours later near Barceloneta in the north, still with sustained winds of about 115 mph (185 kph). The onslaught was sufficient to knock down hundreds of transmission towers and thousands of distribution poles and lines.

The storm’s path was ideal for taking down the entire grid. Most of Puerto Rico’s generating capacity is along the southern coast and most consumption is in the north around San Juan, with steel and aluminum transmission towers up to 90 feet (27 meters) tall running through the mountains in the middle. At least 10 towers fell along the most important transmission line that runs to the capital, entangling it with a secondary one that runs parallel and that lost about two dozen towers in a hard-to-reach area in the center of the island.

“It reminds me of a fireball that just burned everything in its path,” said Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers unit working to clear debris and restore the grid, with nearly 400 troops on the ground.

The storm also struck at a terrible time. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority filed for bankruptcy in July. It has put off badly needed maintenance and had just finished dealing with outages from Hurricane Irma in early September.

“You stop doing your typical deferred maintenance, and so you become even that much more susceptible to a storm like Maria and Irma coming and blowing down your towers, water coming up in your substations and flooding them,” said Tom Lewis, president of the U.S. division of Louis Berger, which has been supplying generators in Puerto Rico to clients that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everything becomes that much more sensitive to any kind of damage whether it be from wind or water.”

PREPA Director Ricardo Ramos said the authority is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and contractors to bring in more “bucket trucks” and other equipment. It already has about 400 three- to five-member repair crews and is trying to reach 1,000 within three weeks with workers brought in from the U.S. “With this number of brigades we will be able to advance much more rapidly,” Ramos assured reporters during a recent news conference.

PREPA brought in a Montana company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help its crews restore the transmission and distribution lines across the island. It has a rolling contract and can bill up to $300 million for its work, said Odalys de Jesus, a spokeswoman for the power authority.

It is a huge job for a young company, formed in 2015. Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said previous work restoring transmission lines damaged by wildfires in the western U.S. has prepared them for the Puerto Rico contract. “We don’t like easy,” he said during a break at one of the company’s base camps near Barceloneta.

The camp buzzes with activity as helicopters come and go, taking linemen and equipment to the mountain towers, the pilots deftly navigating the lines and mountains to lower men and equipment to the steel-and-aluminum girds high above the trees. Whitefish had about 270 employees in Puerto Rico as of midweek, working both on transmission and distribution. It expects the number to double in the coming weeks if it can find sufficient lodging and transport to the island.

Other contractors working in Puerto Rico include Fluor Corp., which was awarded a $336.2 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal and power restoration, and Weston Solutions, which is providing two generators to stabilize power in the capital for $35 million.

Their efforts are to restore the system that was in place before the storm, not to build a better one, at least not yet. Gov. Rossello says the island needs to overhaul its power grid, make it less vulnerable and look at alternative sources. He welcomed a proposal by Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car company Tesla, to expand solar energy and has raised the issue of longer-term improvements with Washington.

House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to express at least a willingness to consider helping Puerto Rico build back better when he visited the island this month. “If you going to put up a power line let’s put up a power line that can withstand hurricane-force winds,” he said. “It makes no sense to put temporary patches on problems that have long term effects.”

Techmanski said Whitefish was making progress on the line that carries about 230,000 volts to San Juan from the Aguirre power plant in the south, which will vastly increase the amount of power reaching the capital.

“We’re getting it done,” he said. But, asked about the goal of getting 95 percent of power back by the end of the year, he wasn’t sure: “It is very optimistic at this point.”

Evoking slain son, John Kelly defends Donald Trump on condolence calls

He started by describing the reverent handling of America’s war dead, bodies packed in ice and shipped home in the dark to Dover Air Force Base.

From that opening, White House chief of staff John Kelly delivered a raw and searing monologue Thursday about the reality and pain of war sacrifice, praising those who serve and summoning the 2010 death of his own son to defend President Donald Trump against accusations of insensitive outreach to a grieving military family.

In an unannounced appearance at the White House, Kelly, a retired three-star general whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, dressed down the Democratic congresswoman who had criticized Trump for comments she said he had made in a condolence call to the pregnant widow of a Green Beret killed in Niger.

Kelly called Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida an “empty barrel” who “makes noise,” but he did not deny the lawmaker’s account of the phone call, as the president had this week. Throughout his remarks, Kelly lamented what he said was lost respect for military service, women, authority and more.

“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” Kelly said. “Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.”

The remarkable scene underscored Kelly’s singular role as an authoritative adviser and now spokesman for a president who is prone to false claims, exaggerations and misstatements. Kelly, who joined the White House to restore internal order, has increasingly become a public figure himself, employed to project calm and reassurance in times of crisis.

The uproar over Trump and how presidents should or shouldn’t try to console families of the fallen has rattled the White House and overshadowed the rest of Trump’s agenda in recent days.

Kelly personally absolved Trump of blame in his call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson, a conversation that prompted Wilson to declare that the president had been disrespectful to the grieving family and couldn’t remember Johnson’s name.

“If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’ve never been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call,” Kelly said. “I think he very bravely does make those calls.”

Trump – who has frequently struggled with showing empathy – has emphatically rejected claims that he was disrespectful. But he started the latest controversy this week when he boasted about his commitment to calling service members’ next of kin and brought Kelly into the issue by wondering aloud if President Barack Obama had called the former Marine general after the death of Kelly’s son.

Kelly confirmed Thursday that Obama had not called him, but he made clear “that was not a criticism.”

“That’s not a negative thing,” he said. “I don’t believe all presidents call. I believe they all write.”

In fact, the chief of staff said that when Trump took office, he advised him against making those calls: “I said to him, ‘Sir there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.'”

But Trump wanted to make the calls, and asked Kelly for advice on what to say. In response, Kelly told him what General Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him when Robert Kelly was killed. Kelly recalled that Dunford told him his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war.”

And Kelly added that Dunford told him that “when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.”

Kelly said the Defense Department is investigating the details of the Oct. 4 ambush that killed four American soldiers, including Johnson, in Niger.

Islamic militants on motorcycles brought rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, killing the four and wounding others after shattering the windows of unarmored U.S. trucks. The attack happened in a remote corner of Niger where Americans and local counterparts had been meeting with community leaders.

Kelly said Thursday that small groups of U.S. military personnel are being sent overseas, including to Niger, to help train local people to fight the IS group “so that we don’t have to send large numbers of troops.”

His speech was a rebuke to Wilson, who was in the car with the family of Johnson when Trump called on Tuesday. She said in an interview that Trump had told Johnson’s widow that “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it … but it still hurts.” Johnson’s aunt, who raised the soldier from a young age, said the family took that remark to be disrespectful.

The call came in as they drove to Miami’s airport to receive the body. At the airport, widow Myeshia Johnson leaned in grief across the flag-draped coffin after a military guard received it.

A spokeswoman said Thursday that Wilson stood by her earlier comments. The congresswoman herself, asked by WSVN-TV in Florida about Kelly’s remarks, replied only indirectly.

“Let me tell you what my mother told me when I was little,” Wilson said. “She said, ‘The dog can bark at the moon all night long, but it doesn’t become an issue until the moon barks back.'”

Kelly also accused Wilson of grandstanding at the dedication of a Miami FBI office in 2015.

The White House chief of staff said he was so upset by her criticism of Trump’s call that he went to walk “among the finest men and women on earth” in a 90-minute visit to nearby Arlington National Cemetery, among the graves of service members, including some who died under his command.

Kelly began his remarks by recounting in painstaking detail what happens after a soldier is killed in overseas combat. The dead soldier’s body is wrapped in a makeshift shroud by his colleagues, Kelly said, and then flown by helicopter to a nearby air base, where it is packed in ice. It is then flown to a second base, often in Europe, and put in more ice before it is transported to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The body is then embalmed and dressed in military uniform, complete with medals before heading home.

Kelly said the next of kin are notified by a casualty officer, who “proceeds to break the heart of a family member.”

Robert Kelly, 29, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan’s remote Helmand province. Kelly said his family got calls from Robert’s friends in Afghanistan attesting to his character. Those calls, he said as he fought back tears, were the most important.

After his dramatic opening statement, Kelly then took questions from reporters, asking first if any of them were Gold Star parents or siblings, meaning relatives of slain service members. When no one raised a hand, Kelly then said he would take questions only from those who knew a Gold Star family.

Kelly, whose frustration with the distractions created by Trump on other subjects led him to deny last week that he was considering quitting, also bemoaned how the nation no longer held things sacred, from life to religion to women. He said the respect given to Gold Star families “left in the convention over the summer,” an apparent reference to the bitter election exchanges between the Trump campaign and a family whose military son had been killed.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Feds: Inspections show Lake Okeechobee’s dike sound

Federal officials are conducting daily inspections of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee because of its near-record water levels but say it is not in danger of failing.

Almur Whiting of the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday there has been some seepage through the Herbert Hoover Dike but it is not significant.

The corps is halfway through a $1.7 billion renovation program for the 80-year-old dike, which is scheduled for completion in 2025. The dike’s current water level is 17 feet – 4 feet higher than it was before Hurricane Irma passed over the area Sept. 10. Officials believe the water level has peaked.

The corps starts doing extra inspections when the level hits 16 feet.

Two failures of an earlier dike killed thousands in the 1920s.

 

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Social media helping college teams start new traditions

In an era when it’s increasingly difficult to get fans in the stadium, it apparently isn’t so hard to get them into new rituals.

Average attendance at the Football Bowl Subdivision level has dipped nearly 6 ½ percent over the last six years — from 46,632 in 2010 to 43,612 last season — and lagging student interest during the digital age is considered a factor. But in a sport that loves its history, the same technological advances that tempt fans to stay home also make it easier for programs start their own game-day traditions.

It has become apparent in Florida’s last two games, as the Gators have mixed practices old and new. As is customary, Gator fans sing “We Are The Boys From Old Florida” at the end of the third quarter. Now they follow that up by singing along as the public-address system plays “I Won’t Back Down” by Gainesville, Florida, native Tom Petty, who died Oct. 2.

The “We Are The Boys From Old Florida” singalong has been going on for decades. The decision to play Petty’s song right afterward arose following Petty’s death, but fans knew what was planned because Florida announced its intentions beforehand.

Just like that, a potential new tradition was born.

“To see that after ‘We Are The Boys,’ to hear that place (sing) in unison, it was special,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “Credit goes to the people who put it together, and more than that, the response of the fans. And, ultimately, ‘I won’t back down’ — it kind of hits home for me.”

The quick turnaround of Florida’s Petty project highlights the potential for social media to impact tradition making. For example, when a school wants to “stripe” its stadium in school colors, as West Virginia did last week before its game with Texas Tech, school officials merely remind fans on Twitter which color to wear based on where they’ll be sitting.

“I think it’s actually a little easier to start a tradition now in the digital age,” Houston athletic department spokesman David Bassity said. “You’re able to communicate and get information out ahead of time. I remember going back as a high-school student or in junior high with season tickets to Oklahoma, they tried popping out the ‘shock wave’ — a wave from the first row to the very top row, like a vertical wave. But no one really knew about it until you got to the game and it was kind of a half buy-in. Now you have your digital platforms and you can let people know what you want to do. It becomes your own organic word of mouth.”

Florida isn’t alone. A number of programs have successfully launched new rituals. They may not be as old as the Friday night yell practice at Texas A&M or the rolling of Toomer’s Corner at Auburn, but these practices have quickly become a part of their school’s football culture:

HAWKEYE WAVE: No new college football tradition has garnered quite as much attention this year as Iowa’s friendly greeting. After the first quarter of home games, fans wave to patients at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that’s adjacent to Kinnick Stadium. Patients and relatives often are looking out the window and waving back.

HOUSTON’S ‘CAGE SWAY’: After the Cougars finish their pregame warmups, they gather in front of the student section, lock arms and sway back and forth while engaging in a call-and-response with the students, who also are locking arms and swaying. The practice started in 2015. “The song had been one some of our players had kind of created a while back and was more of an inside-the-locker-room type of deal,” Bassity said. “It became a matter of what if we do that with the student body before we go up to the locker room?”

TOUCHING THE STATUE: Ever since Arizona State unveiled a statue of former defensive back Pat Tillman outside the school’s student-athlete facility just before the season, the Sun Devils have made a point of touching the statue as they head to the field before every home game.

“If you are going to go out there and touch that statue, you get out on that field and you bring it like he did,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “If we do that, great things are going to happen.”

HONORING BEAMER: When Justin Fuente took over for the retiring Frank Beamer as Virginia Tech’s coach last year, he chose to honor his predecessor by handing out Beamer’s retired No. 25 jersey to a special teams player of the week. Beamer’s Virginia Tech teams were known for their exceptional special-teams performances.

OPENING THE GATES AT WAKE: Wake Forest has a prominent alum or former Demon Deacons athlete open the BB&T Stadium gate and lead the team onto the field for every home game. Former Wake Forest stars Arnold Palmer, Tim Duncan and Chris Paul have already taken a turn.

“It came out of our marketing department,” Wake Forest athletic department spokesman Steve Shutt said. “We were looking for a way to recognize some of our alums and former athletes. When you a have a famous person come back to campus rather than just have them stand up in a stadium and (have a public address announcer) say, ‘Arnold Palmer’s here today,’ kind of put a little more meat to it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Kent Fuchs: Security cost for Richard Spencer speech ‘unfair’

A day before white nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida, its president affirmed his belief in free speech but said the security costs of holding such an event at a public university put an unfair burden on taxpayers.

UF President W. Kent Fuchs said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that Spencer is “hijacking” public universities — which are compelled by the First Amendment to provide a speaking forum — and forcing taxpayers to pay the resulting security costs.

Fuchs estimates the school will spend $600,000 on security for Spencer’s planned speech Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government, in this case a public university, cannot charge speakers for security costs.

Spencer’s National Policy Institute is paying $10,564 to rent space for the speaking event.

“I fully understand freedom of speech cannot be burdened legally with the full cost of this, but on the other hand we’re being burdened,” said Fuchs, sitting in his office on campus in Gainesville. “So taxpayers are subsidizing hate speech.”

Following the August violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter demonstrator dead, Fuchs said high security costs are required to ensure a reasonable amount of safety.

The school has called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources. Streets will be blocked off, and movement around the campus tightly controlled.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, saying a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the school is located. The order allowed local law enforcement to partner with other agencies.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who organized the event at University of Florida for Spencer, called the high security costs “discouraging,” and said anyone from either side who incites violence should be arrested.

“That money should be used for scholarships, more research or stay with the taxpayers. But at the end of the day free speech needs to be protected,” he said.

After Scott’s emergency declaration, Fuchs said the school received many calls from parents concerned about safety. Fuchs had told students prior to the governor’s announcement to go to class as usual, and said the campus would remain open.

Fuchs said he supported the governor’s decision because it was requested by law enforcement, but admitted it created challenges for his administration.

“Parents want to know, ‘Why is the governor declaring a state of emergency and yet you President Fuchs are saying my son or daughter should be going to class?’ That (announcement) elevated that tension, locally with parents and brought a national visibility to this,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said he hopes the event will end up bringing the community closer together, and that it can be used to create a dialogue about race.

Student leaders are hosting a “virtual assembly” via Facebook during Spencer’s event to discuss race relations and diversity.

Family of slain sergeant says Donald Trump showed disrespect

The mother of an Army sergeant killed in Niger said Wednesday that President Donald Trump, in a call offering condolences, showed “disrespect” to the soldier’s loved ones as they drove to the airport to meet his body. Trump, engulfed in controversy over the appropriate way for presidents to show compassion for slain soldiers, strongly disputed that account.

Sgt. La David Johnson was one of four American military personnel killed nearly two weeks ago whose families had not heard from Trump until Tuesday. Rep. Frederica Wilson said that Trump told the widow that Johnson “knew what he signed up for.”

The Florida Democrat said she was in the car with the widow, Myeshia Johnson, on the way to Miami International Airport to meet the body when Trump called. La David Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Associated Press Wednesday that the congresswoman’s account was correct.

“Yes the statement is true,” Jones-Johnson said. “I was in the car and I heard the full conversation.

That’s simply not so, Trump said Wednesday. He declared on Twitter: “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”

And in a White House meeting on tax reform, Trump said that he “didn’t say what that congresswoman said, didn’t say it at all. She knows it.”

Wilson did not back down from her account, suggesting that Trump “never wants to take ownership” of a mistake.

“If you are the leader of the free world, if you are president of the United States and you want to convey sympathy to a grieving family, a grieving widow, you choose your words carefully,” Wilson told the Associated Press Wednesday. “And everyone knows that Donald Trump does not choose his words carefully.”

“She was crying for the whole time,” Wilson said of the new widow. “And the worst part of it: when he hung up you know what she turned to me and said? She said he didn’t even remember his name.”

Like presidents before him, Trump has made personal contact with some families of the fallen but not all. What’s different is that Trump, alone among them, has picked a political fight over who’s done better to honor the war dead and their families.

He placed himself at the top of the list, saying on Tuesday, “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died” while past presidents didn’t place such calls.

But The Associated Press found relatives of two soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received a call or a letter from him, as well as relatives of a third who did not get a call. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush — saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump, took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.

After her Army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May, Sheila Murphy says, she got no call or letter from Trump, even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that “some days I don’t want to live.”

In contrast, Trump called to comfort Eddie and Aldene Lee about 10 days after their Army son was killed in an explosion while on patrol in Iraq in April. “Lovely young man,” Trump said, according to Aldene. She thought that was a beautiful word to hear about her boy, “lovely.”

Trump’s delay in publicly discussing the men lost at Niger did not appear to be extraordinary, judging from past examples, but his politicization of the matter is. He went so far Tuesday as to cite the death of chief of staff John Kelly’s son in Afghanistan to question whether Obama had properly honored the war dead.

Kelly was a Marine general under Obama when his Marine son Robert died in 2010. “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said on Fox News radio.

A White House official said later that Obama did not call Kelly but not respond to questions whether some other sort of outreach was made. Kelly, who was absent from a pair of public White House events on Tuesday, was sitting near the president in his tax reform meeting on Wednesday but did not address reporters.

Democrats and some former government officials were livid, accusing Trump of “inane cruelty” and a “sick game.”

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was attacked, said: “I just wish that this commander in chief would stop using Gold Star families as pawns in whatever sick game he’s trying to play here.”

For their part, Gold Star families, which have lost members in wartime, told AP of acts of intimate kindness from Obama and Bush when those commanders in chief consoled them.

Trump initially claimed that only he among presidents made sure to call families. Obama may have done so on occasion, he said, but “other presidents did not call.”

He equivocated Tuesday as the record made plain that his characterization was false. “I don’t know,” he said of past calls. But he said his own practice was to call all families of the war dead.

But that hasn’t happened.

No White House protocol demands that presidents speak or meet with the families of Americans killed in action — an impossible task in a war’s bloodiest stages. But they often do.

Altogether some 6,900 Americans have been killed in overseas wars since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the overwhelming majority under Bush and Obama.

Despite the much heavier toll on his watch — more than 800 dead each year from 2004 through 2007 — Bush wrote to all bereaved military families and met or spoke with hundreds if not thousands, said his spokesman, Freddy Ford.

Veterans groups said they had no quarrel with how presidents have recognized the fallen or their families.

“I don’t think there is any president I know of who hasn’t called families,” said Rick Weidman, co-founder and executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America. “President Obama called often and President Bush called often. They also made regular visits to Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center, going in the evenings and on Saturdays.”

Trump feuded with one Gold Star family during last year’s campaign, assailing the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004, after they criticized him from the stage at the Democratic National Convention.

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