Associated Press - 6/394 - SaintPetersBlog

Associated Press

Wildfires scorch parts of Florida; gov. declares emergency

Firefighters are battling wildfires from the top of Florida near the Georgia line to Miami-Dade County in the south as the governor declared a state of emergency Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott said the proclamation will make it easier for state, regional and local agencies to “quickly work together to protect our families, visitors and communities” as authorities battle more than 100 wildfires around the state.

“Thank God we have the firefighters we do at the local, state and federal level and willing to put their lives at risk to take care of us,” he added. “If it hadn’t been for their hard work we would’ve lost a lot of homes … all across the state.”

The blaze is also affecting wildlife. On Sunday, Pembroke Pines Police reported that a group of teens caught a 13-foot python with burns on its skin in that South Florida community near the Everglades Wildlife Management Area.

“Due to the brush fires in the Everglades, you may see a rise in wildlife entering residential areas to escape the smoke and flames,” the police department wrote on its Facebook page. It added photos of the snake, which was being treated at a wildlife park.

Wildfires are burning on a total of more than 23,800 acres (9,600 hectares) of land and have destroyed 19 homes, authorities said.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said this is the most active wildfire season since 2011, with some 107 fires statewide.

A Florida Fire Service map shows most of the fires have sprung up between Lake Okeechobee to the south and the Ocala National Forest to the north. Scott’s executive order is expected to speed government assistance in hard-hit Polk, Collier, Marion, Nassau, Broward, Hernando and Glades counties.

Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres (25,500 hectares) of the state. That amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.

The largest blaze right now is the one known as the Cowbell Fire in South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) just north of Interstate 75.

Authorities lightning set off a wildfire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and it has continued to spread, burning through more than 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) of swamp and forestland near the Georgia-Florida state line.

Susan Heisey, supervisory ranger for the south Georgia refuge, said Tuesday that more firefighters are being added to a team of more than 100 trying to contain the blaze to public land.

Heisey said the fire began in the southern portion of the Okefenokee refuge’s vast 407,000 acres (16,400 hectares). She said it has now spread into the neighboring Osceola National Forest and John M. Bethea State Forest in Florida.

In Pasco County, north of Tampa, voluntary evacuations were issued Monday and an emergency shelter was opened. The evacuation order was rescinded and the shelter closed later Monday evening but officials there are warning residents to be ready in case evacuations are again recommended.

One fire near Oviedo in central Florida over the weekend resulted in evacuations of nearly 40 homes and harrowing moments for firefighters. And a Hernando County brush fire apparently sparked by lightning on Saturday had widened to 1,100 acres (445 hectares) by Monday.

The dry conditions mark a sharp contrast to 2016, when the state was drenched by two hurricanes. Many areas are experiencing drought and authorities said that’s a big factor in why so many wildfires have ignited. April and May are traditionally Florida’s driest months.

Putnam said about 90 percent of the fires this year have been sparked by humans.

State health officials warn that wildfire smoke affects people with chronic lung and heart problems and asthma. Doctors have advised people with these conditions should limit their outdoor activities if wildfires are burning nearby.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Millions donated to Florida politicians amid 2017 session

Some of the biggest companies involved in battles at the state Capitol showered campaign contributions to the state’s political parties and other top politicians in the first few months of the year.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show that the Republican Party of Florida raised $2.46 million during the first quarter of the year, while a separate GOP campaign committee that raises money for state Senate candidates raised $1.43 million. The Florida Democratic Party raised slightly more than $843,000 during the same period.

The annual Session of the Florida Legislature started in early March. That triggered a flow of money from groups either pushing legislation, or seeking to block bills from passing.

Money came from utilities such as Florida Power & Light, companies such as U.S. Sugar and companies in the gambling industry.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggests that Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested Tuesday that Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons.

Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust using gas chambers at concentration camps.

Spicer, comparing Hitler to Syria’s Bashar Assad, said Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

An April 4 chemical weapons attack in northern Syria left nearly 90 people dead, and the U.S. has blamed Assad. Turkey’s health minister said Tuesday that test results confirm sarin gas was used.

Spicer later tried to clarify his statement, saying Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people “in the same way” as Assad.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

St. Pete man dies after being hit with beer bottle during bar fight

Police say a man is dead after another man hit him over the head with a beer bottle while playing pool at a Florida bar.

St. Petersburg police tell local news outlets that 62-year-old Vincent Hollingsworth began arguing with 32-year-old Marion Stephens on Sunday night and hit him multiple times with a pool cue.

Stephens then came up behind Hollingsworth and hit him with the bottle. Police say bouncers tried to separate the men, but Stephens got around them and hit Hollingsworth several more times. Hollingsworth fell, hitting his head on the pool table.

Medics took Hollingsworth to a hospital, where he died early Monday.

Stephens left the bar in a cab, but officers arrested him Monday. He faces a manslaughter charge. Jail records don’t list an attorney for Stephens.

County considers special tax for Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits

Commissioners in a Florida county are so tired of spending money on President Donald Trump‘s frequent visits to his Mar-a-Lago resort that some are suggesting a special tax be levied against the property if the federal government doesn’t reimburse its costs.

Palm Beach County spends more than $60,000 a day when the president visits, mostly for law enforcement overtime — almost $2 million since January. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says the county was expected to spend $250,000 during Trump’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president’s sixth trip to his Winter White House in the 12 weeks since his inauguration.

County Commissioner Dave Kerner has suggested turning Mar-a-Lago into a special taxing district and imposing a levy on the resort to pay the president’s security costs. Because Mar-a-Lago is incorporated as a club, it pays lower property taxes than hotels. It also gets a tax break because Trump surrendered development rights after he purchased the property from the estate of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post for $10 million in 1985.

The 500 members pay $14,000 annually in dues. The initiation fee was recently doubled to $200,000. Forbes Magazine estimates the club is now worth $150 million.

“We’re very honored to have the president here, but at the same time, his travel here is such high frequency he’s not visiting Palm Beach County – he’s governing from it,” Kerner told Money magazine recently. “Whatever our priorities are, the taxpayers didn’t pay this money to us to protect the president.”

Kerner did not return numerous calls from The Associated Press to his office.

The sheriff believes the federal government will eventually reimburse the county, but can’t be certain.

“I had a personal conversation with the president in February and he understands,” Bradshaw said. “There is a system in place and, unfortunately, that involves Congress … and that is not an easy thing to navigate through. I am sure they will get around to it.”

Local governments aren’t the only ones complaining. No solution has been found for the 28 business owners at Lantana Airport, a small field for propeller planes about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Mar-a-Lago. The Secret Service shutters it every time Trump visits Mar-a-Lago because agents believe the 350 flights it handles daily pose a security risk.

Marian Smith, who owns a flight school, says she has lost almost $100,000 because of the closures. A banner-towing company that operates from the airport says it has lost over $40,000 in contracts.

Jonathan Miller, the contractor who operates the county-owned airport, said this week that he believes a compromise will be worked out with the Secret Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies that would allow the airport to operate with restrictions during presidential visits.

“The FAA has a strong incentive to work with us and help get some funding that will put a system in place that will appease the Secret Service,” Miller said.

The cost of Trump’s visits divides local residents, with the schism often falling along political lines. Trump’s supporters say any money spent by the county is recouped through added visitors lured by the frequent exposure and his visits show he cares about the area.

“The fact that he comes down here, the fact he is involved in the community to this extent even though he is the president, I think that’s great,” said Julian Detwiler, who operates produce stands at local farmers markets. “There are costs associated with everything. It doesn’t cost the country or the community more for him to (visit) than lots of other things we do. It keeps the economy going.”

The president’s critics say the visits illustrate his hypocrisy as he frequently slammed President Barack Obama‘s trips, even though they were less frequent and didn’t burden any single community.

“Trump is costing this area so much money, a hell of a lot of money, and he doesn’t seem to give a damn,” said Bob Brink, a novelist and retired local journalist.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Chinese composer Du Yun stunned by Pulitzer win

The Latest on the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism and the arts (all times local):

6 p.m.

When Chinese composer Du Yun heard she won the Pulitzer Prize for music, she thought it was a prank.

Yun had just returned from a day of panels at The Culture Summit in Abu Dhabi, and her librettist texted her the good news, which arrived close to midnight for Yun.

Thirty-nine-year-old Yun won the prize Monday for “Angel’s Bone,” about a financially struggling couple who set out to nurse two battered angels, but instead kept the angels captive and exploited them for wealth and personal gains.

The Pulitzer board called the operatic work “bold” and said it “integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world.”

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5:05 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post says getting a call from President Donald Trump was “an emotional high point” in his reporting.

As for winning the prize, he said it’s “pretty overwhelming.”

Fahrenthold won the Pulitzer for national reporting for a series of stories exposing issues with Trump’s claimed charity giving and a story about a videotape where Trump made crude comments about women.

His path to Pulitzer victory involved trying to find veterans groups who had gotten $1 million Trump had promised of his own money. Fahrenthold used Twitter to publicize his efforts, tagging Trump’s Twitter account in his posts so Trump could see what he was doing.

Ultimately, Trump called to tell him that he was giving away $1 million to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, a charity run by a friend.

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4:15 p.m.

A 3,000-circulation newspaper that publishes twice a week has won the Pulitzer Prize for taking on powerful agricultural organizations after a water utility sued the paper’s home county and two others over farm pollution.

The Storm Lake Times of Iowa and writer Art Cullen won for a series of editorials that challenged powerful agricultural interests in the state. Judges said Cullen’s editorials were fueled by “tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing.”

Cullen owns the newspaper with his brother and says his editorials were about government transparency.

The counties sued by the Des Moines Water Works secretly received money from agriculture groups to fight the lawsuit, and the newspaper pushed in its reporting to lift the veil of secrecy on who was paying to fight the lawsuit.

Cullen says he feels vindicated that the information was released.

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4 p.m.

The New York Times has won three Pulitzer Prizes, for international reporting, breaking news photography and feature writing.

The awards were announced at Columbia University on Monday, several hours after the Times appeared to signal their wins by publishing an announcement promoting a Facebook Live event with its Pulitzer Prize winners. A Times spokeswoman called the notice “a mistake, combined with a little bit of hopeful thinking.”

The Times staff won the international reporting award for a series of reports on Vladimir Putin‘s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad. Daniel Berehulak won for photographs that documented a violent campaign in the Philippines. And C.J. Chivers won in the feature category for a magazine piece on a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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3:50 p.m.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for exposing the unchecked flow of opioids into depressed West Virginia counties.

Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre documented how drug wholesalers flooded the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over six years at a time when 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.

The winners were announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City.

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3:45 p.m.

Colson Whitehead has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel “The Underground Railroad,” which combined flights of imagination with the grimmest and most realistic detail of 19th-century slavery.

No work of fiction was more honored in 2016. Whitehead’s novel, which told of a runaway slave and a very real train to freedom, was given rave advance reviews and upon publication immediately jumped to the top of best-seller lists when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club. Last November, it won the National Book Award.

Whitehead told The Associated Press on Monday: “I think the book deals with white supremacy as a foundational error in the country’s history and that foundational error is being played out now in the White House.”

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3:40 p.m.

“Olio” by Tyehimba Jess has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

The Pulitzer board said Monday that the work melds performance art with poetry “to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.”

Finalists in the category were “Collected Poems: 1950-2012” by the late Adrienne Rich and “XX” by Campbell McGrath.

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3:38 p.m.

The East Bay Times in Oakland, California, has won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for coverage of a warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

Judges said the staff of the newspaper received the award for relentless coverage of the Ghost Ship fire in December and for reporting after the tragedy that exposed the city’s failure to take actions that might have prevented it.

The winners were announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City.

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3:35 p.m.

Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” has won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Set in Milwaukee, Desmond’s book was among a wave of works that explored poverty, race and the class divide, themes that had special resonance as Republican Donald Trump campaigned on restoring the American Dream for “forgotten” Americans. Last month, Desmond won a National Book Critics Circle award.

The finalists for the nonfiction Pulitzer were “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker; and Micki McElya‘s “The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery.”

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3:32 p.m.

David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post has won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for campaign reporting that cast doubt on Donald Trump’s assertions of generosity toward charities.

The award was announced Monday at Columbia University in New York City.

Among Fahrenthold’s findings was that Trump spent $20,000 that belonged to his charity on a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself.

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3:30 p.m.

“The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between” by Hisham Matar has won the Pulitzer Prize for autobiography.

The Pulitzer Prize board said Monday that Matar’s memoir about his native Libya “examines with controlled emotion the past and present of an embattled region.”

Finalists in the combined category of autobiography and biography included “In the Darkroom” by Susan Faludi and “When Breath Becomes Air” by the late Paul Kalanithi.

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3:25 p.m.

“Angel’s Bone” by Du Yun has won the Pulitzer Prize for music.

The Pulitzer Prize board on Monday called the operatic work “bold” and said it “integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world.”

Finalists in the category were “Bound to the Bow” by Ashley Fure and “Ipsa Dixit” by Kate Soper.

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3:20 p.m.

The gripping “Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy” by Heather Ann Thompson has won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

The book examines the events that unfolded starting in Sept. 9, 1971, when nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. The work reveals the crimes committed during the uprising and its aftermath, who committed them and how they were covered up.

Last year’s history prize was won by “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America” by T.J. Stiles. Other past winners include Charles Warren, Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Dean Acheson and Richard Hofstadter.

The award is for “a distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States.” It includes a $15,000 prize.

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This story has been corrected to show that the prize is now $15,000, not $10,000.

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3:15 p.m.

The New York Daily News and ProPublica have won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for a series on how officials are using a nuisance abatement law to evict people from their homes, even if they haven’t committed a crime.

The award was announced Monday at Columbia University in New York City.

The reporting came from the review of 516 residential nuisance abatement actions from Jan. 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. It found 173 of the people who gave up their leases or were banned from homes were not convicted of a crime, including 44 people who appear to have faced no criminal prosecution whatsoever.

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3:10 p.m.

“Sweat” by Lynn Nottage, which explores working-class resentment, has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play that explores how the shutdown of a Pennsylvania factory leads to the breakdown of friendship and family and a devastating cycle of violence, prejudice, poverty and drugs.

The play marks Nottage’s Broadway debut. She is the writer of “Intimate Apparel,” ”By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” and “Ruined,” which also won the Pulitzer Prize.

The drama award, which includes a $15,000 prize, is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.”

Previous playwrights honored include August Wilson, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Recent winners include Annie Baker‘s “The Flick,” Ayad Akhtar‘s “Disgraced,” Stephen Adly Guirgis‘s “Between Riverside and Crazy,” and Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s “Hamilton.”

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This story has been corrected to show that the prize is now $15,000, not $10,000.

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1:45 p.m.

The New York Times says it mistakenly published an announcement promoting a Facebook Live event with its Pulitzer Prize winners, hours before the winners were announced.

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wouldn’t confirm it had advance word that it had won any Pulitzers. She says the notice was “a mistake, combined with a little bit of hopeful thinking.”

Published on Page 2 of Monday’s print edition of The Times, it read: “How does it feel to get a Pulitzer Prize? Ask The Times’s recently announced 2017 winners yourself — they’ll be taking questions live today at 4:30 p.m. E.T.”

Although the prizes are confidential, news organizations sometimes manage to learn of Pulitzer wins before the official announcements. The winners of the 2017 Pulitzers were to be revealed at 3 p.m. Monday.

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9:20 a.m.

The winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism and the arts are set to be announced in New York City.

This is the contest’s 101st year. The winners are being revealed Monday afternoon at Columbia University.

The Pulitzer Prizes will recognize the best journalism of 2016 in newspapers, magazines and websites. There are 14 categories for reporting, photography, criticism and commentary.

In the arts, prizes are awarded in seven categories, including fiction, drama and music.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Political talk helping ‘The View’ to comeback

The unquenchable thirst for chatter about President Donald Trump has changed the dynamics of a fierce daytime television competition much as it has in late-night TV.

“The View” has spent more time talking politics with the arrival of a new administration, stopping the momentum of its rival “The Talk,” which sticks to pop culture. It’s a turnabout similar to Stephen Colbert supplanting Jimmy Fallon as the new king of late-night, only it has received little attention in comparison.

“It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of what Barbara Walters created 20 years ago — a show where women can have a real vigorous debate about the issues of the day and can discuss the things that matter,” said James Goldston, president of ABC News, which supervises “The View.”

In some circles, “The Talk” was seen as a knockoff of “The View” when it began seven years ago. But it became a more pleasant place to visit, to the point where it regularly topped its older rival in ratings starting in May 2015.

Since the beginning of this year, the average audience for “The View” has increased by 1 percent over 2016 while “The Talk” is down 6 percent, the Nielsen company said. “The View” regularly beats its rival now.

Both shows share a format: five women on a set inviting viewers to have a cup of coffee and talk about what’s on their minds, with celebrities often stopping by.

One recent day illustrated how their focuses diverged, however. “The View” opened with a discussion on “America’s national nervous breakdown,” pivoting to the White House visit of Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, then chairman of the House probe into Russia’s influence on the presidential campaign. Next, a talk about Trump’s effort to roll back some of his predecessor’s climate change regulations.

At “The Talk,” the show started with the story of actor Russell Crowe gaining weight.

The “hot topics” segment on “The View,” where the hosts begin with a freewheeling discussion anchored in the day’s headlines, often stretches to take up most — if not all — of the day’s show. Celebrities are sometimes coaxed into political talk. Guests like Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead Democrat on the Russia committee, were recently interviewed via satellite.

In truth, “The View” was a hot mess two years ago. There was the failed return of Rosie O’Donnell, a revolving door of cast members and gossip column items about backstage bad blood. ABC’s news division was put in charge in 2014, taking over from entertainment, and the show finally seems stable. Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar are the tart-tongued lead regulars, with Jedediah Bila, a former Fox News contributor, taking the role of put-upon conservative.

The newsier focus simply evolved, said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, a talk show veteran who is senior executive producer. She assembled a producing team with Candi Carter, a veteran of Oprah Winfrey’s operation, and Brian Teta, who worked on David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

“We wanted to make the show more relevant, and talk about news and politics was at the lead of that because it was the most compelling conversation to be having,” McLoughlin said.

The current climate can sometimes make “The Talk” seem frivolous and out-of-touch. But it wouldn’t be wise to shift gears so the hosts are talking about things they’re not accustomed to discussing and the audience isn’t used to hearing, said Angelica McDaniel, head of daytime programming for CBS.

The show will stick with what has worked for seven years, she said.

“We offer a place for viewers to come where they know they can escape the politics,” McDaniel said. “Why not come and have a respite? Why not come to a place where you know your best girlfriends are and you can just laugh and have a good time for an hour every weekday?”

McLoughlin believes that misreads what the audience wants.

“Some people watch daytime TV shows to escape,” she said. “They’re not interested in politics and they’re not interested in news. But we’re finding more and more that they are, and that’s why we’re growing.”

Bill Carroll, a consultant and expert on TV’s syndication market, notes the similarities in what is happening with Colbert and Fallon. But he wonders: “Is this something that’s the beginning of a shift or is it an indication of where the attention is right now?”

That question will be answered in the coming months.

FBI reviews handling of terrorism-related tips

The FBI has been reviewing the handling of thousands of terrorism-related tips and leads from the past three years to make sure they were properly investigated and no obvious red flags were missed, The Associated Press has learned.

The review follows attacks by people who were once on the FBI’s radar but who have been accused in the past 12 months of massacring innocents in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, injuring people on the streets of New York City, and gunning down travelers in a Florida airport. In each case, the suspects had been determined not to warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny months and sometimes years before the attacks.

The internal audit, which has not been previously reported, began this year and is being conducted in FBI field offices across the country. A senior federal law enforcement official described the review as an effort to “err on the side of caution.”

The audit is essentially a review of records to ensure proper FBI procedures were followed. It’s an acknowledgment of the challenge the FBI has faced, particularly in recent years, in predicting which of the tens of thousands of tips the bureau receives annually might materialize one day into a viable threat.

Investigations that go dormant because of a lack of evidence can resurface instantly when a subject once under scrutiny commits violence or displays fresh signs of radicalization. FBI Director James Comey has likened the difficulty to finding not only a needle in a haystack but determining which piece of hay may become a needle.

Though there’s no indication of significant flaws in how terrorism inquiries are opened and closed, the review is a way for the FBI to “refine and adapt to the threat, and part of that is always making sure you cover your bases,” said the law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

The pace of the FBI’s counterterrorism work accelerated with the rise of the Islamic State group, which in 2014 declared the creation of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq and has used sophisticated propaganda to lure disaffected Westerners to its cause. By the summer of 2015, Comey has said, the FBI was “strapped” in keeping tabs on the group’s American sympathizers and identifying those most inclined to commit violence.

Social media outreach by IS has appealed to people not previously known to the FBI but also enticed some who once had been under scrutiny to get “back in the game,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“The fact that there was a physical location and a caliphate announced, it helped kind of drive folks back in when they might have drifted away,” Hughes said.

The review covers inquiries the FBI internally classifies as “assessments” — the lowest level, least intrusive and most elementary stage of a terror-related inquiry — and is examining ones from the past three years to make sure all appropriate investigative avenues were followed, according to a former federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the process.

Assessments are routinely opened upon a tip — whether from someone concerned about things such as activity in a neighbor’s garage, a co-worker’s comments or expressions of support for IS propaganda — and are catalogued by the FBI. The bureau receives tens of thousands of tips a year, and averages more than 10,000 assessments annually.

FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase.

Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime or national security threat. The guidelines explicitly discourage open-ended inquiries and say assessments are designed to be “relatively short,” with a supervisor signing off on extension requests.

Many assessments are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny.

The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch that a crime could eventually be committed. But on occasion, and within the past year, it’s also meant that people the FBI once looked at but did not find reason to arrest later went on to commit violence.

In the case of Omar Mateen, that scrutiny was extensive, detailed and lengthy.

Mateen, who shot and killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June, was investigated for 10 months in 2013 and interviewed twice after a co-worker reported that Mateen had claimed connections to al-Qaida.

As part of a preliminary investigation, agents recorded Mateen’s conversations and introduced him to confidential sources before closing the matter. That kind of investigation is more intensive than an assessment and permits a broader menu of tactics, but it also requires a stronger basis for suspicion. Mateen was questioned again in 2014 in a separate investigation into a suicide bomber acquaintance. Comey has said he has personally reviewed that inquiry’s handling and has concluded it was done well.

The FBI in 2014 also opened an assessment on Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who last September was charged in bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey, based on concerns expressed by his father. The FBI said it closed the review after checking databases and travel and finding nothing that tied him to terrorism.

Esteban Santiago, the man accused in the January shooting at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport that killed five people, had also been looked at by the FBI. He had walked into the bureau’s office in Anchorage, Alaska, two months earlier and claimed his mind was being controlled by U.S. intelligence officials. In that case, too, the FBI closed its assessment after interviewing family members and checking databases.

Each act of violence has raised questions about whether the FBI missed signs or should have been more aggressive in its investigation. With thousands of assessments pouring in, those decisions aren’t easy.

“If you’re looking at all the cases, if everything’s blinking red, you have to make a judgment call every time,” Hughes said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Authorities: Woman chokes teen for blocking view at Disney

Authorities in Florida say a woman is accused of child abuse after choking a teenager who refused to sit down during a fireworks display at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

An Orange County Sheriff’s arrest report says 41-year-old Tabbatha Kay Mature of New Baltimore, Michigan, was sitting with her family Wednesday night, waiting for the nightly fireworks display. The teen, who was visiting the park with friends, stood up when the show started, blocking the Mature family’s view.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Mature “became aggravated” when they wouldn’t sit down. The girl and her friends decided to leave. Deputies say she told Mature, “You can take our spot.”

That’s when deputies say Mature wrapped her hands around the girl’s neck and squeezed. She wasn’t injured.

Mature was released from jail on a $2,000 bond. Records don’t list a lawyer for Mature.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Rappers becoming fixtures on food scene

Rapper Snoop Dogg furiously stirred flour into a creamy béchamel sauce, a whisk in one hand and a microphone in the other during a cooking demonstration with chef Guy Fieri.

He tossed herbs into the mac and cheese and spicy wing dishes with the dramatic flair of Emeril Lagasse, raising his hands in the air, spinning around after taste tests and occasionally singing lines from songs like “Drop It Like It’s Hot” as a crowd cheered wildly.

Wearing black shades, his dreads in a ponytail, the pioneering rapper rushed off the cooking stage and emerged 20 minutes later at a nearby beachside DJ booth, also part of the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival, spinning tunes, including many of his own, while a stagehand passed out joints to the sweaty, enthusiastic crowd.

Snoop may seem an unlikely guest for a festival where highbrow foodies come for $500-a-plate dinners to mingle with chefs like Jose Andres and Daniel Boulud, but it’s emblematic of the widening intersection between food and music that Snoop and other rappers and hip-hop stars are capitalizing on, where unlikely pairings form shows like VH1’s “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” and rappers like 2 Chainz drop cookbooks along with their albums. Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy, who served time in prison, recently came out with the cookbook “commissary kitchen: my infamous prison cookbook,” which includes a recipe that mixes Ramen noodles and Doritos. You can even buy Rap Snacks, honey jalapeño potato chips with Fetty Wap‘s face on the bag.

On a recent episode of Snoop and Martha Stewart‘s VH1 show, she roasted a whole pig, proclaiming the new way to eat pork was “nose to tail.”

“Nah, nah, nah. In the ‘hood we say from the rooter to the tooter,” says Snoop, who helped Stewart make a Cuban mojito, busting out a quippy rhyme before toasting the audience.

Earlier this month, Miami rapper Rick Ross tapped Stewart to announce the debut of his new album on Twitter. The queen of homemaking also included a photo of her holding a cake with Ross’ album cover on top.

Rev Run of the rap group Run-DMC has also become a fixture on the food scene with the Cooking Channel’s “Rev Run’s Sunday Suppers.” The father of six told The Associated Press that cooking is more about family time and less about the creative process for him.

“Music, like food, has no language barriers. When people hear music or eat tasty food, all of a sudden we have something in common,” he said.

Marketing experts say Stewart and the Food Network, which sponsors the South Beach festival, are using the partnerships to stay fresh and relevant.

“Some of the folks in the food industry are trying to appeal to a younger audience and associate their brands with that,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group.

But it’s not all about inking new business deals. Some artists were busy in the kitchen long before they started making music.

Rapper Flava Flav grew up cooking in his family’s soul food diner. Before bursting onto the music scene with the group Public Enemy, he went to cooking school and says he once was the head chef at the Nassau County Courthouse in New York.

“It’s like music — you’re always creating different tastes, different flavors,” he said in a phone interview.

He’s had several restaurants, mostly centered on his fried chicken, that have closed due to “poor management,” he said. Rockhouse Las Vegas is currently featuring his grub and he said he hopes to another restaurant.

Rapper 2 Chainz, whose hits include “Champions,” dropped a cookbook with one of his albums, featuring recipes for beer-steamed snow crab legs and herb-crusted lamb chops. But he’s struggled in the food business after the Department of Health recently gave his Atlanta tapas restaurant a dismal inspection.

Action Bronson often rhymes in culinary speak. The rapper, whose first album included tracks titled “Jerk Chicken,” ”Shiraz” and “Brunch,” went to culinary school for a year before dropping out and pursuing music.

In an episode of his profanely titled Viceland show, he prepares chicken cutlets with a sesame panko crust that he serves with Mexican chocolate sauce, ice cream, flambéed Hennessey bananas and torched marshmallows, calling it “a fat guy sandwich.”

R&B singer Kelis, whose music intersected with hip-hop and is perhaps best known for “Milkshake,” went to Le Cordon Bleu after hitting the charts, leading to a cookbook, a pop-up restaurant in London and an album titled “Food,” with songs like “Jerk Ribs,” ”Cobbler” and “Biscuits n’ Gravy.”

“I love working with my hands and getting to create something,” said the singer, who is planning to open a restaurant in Los Angeles later this year. “It’s very different than music … you can’t really control what you hear. They have to hear it, whereas food is a choice.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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