Associated Press - 7/355 - SaintPetersBlog

Associated Press

Fact check: Obama didn’t ban Christmas cards to military

A widely shared story claiming President Barack Obama ordered a ban on Christmas cards sent to the military is not true.

The story appeared Dec. 12 on the website tdtalliance using banners and logos from Fox News . The network never aired such a story.

Obama never issued such an order, White House spokesman Carl Woog said Friday.

“This story is not true and appears to be yet another example of so-called fake news,” Woog said. “The president wishes service members celebrating around the world a Merry Christmas and thanks them for what they do every day to defend the United States.”

The story claims that the White House said traditional Christmas greetings will upset Muslims in host countries and will have to be returned to the sender. Similar stories of a Christmas card ban also surfaced last year.

The White House’s holiday website includes a link offering Americans the chance to send digital messages of thanks to active-duty military members.

Obama also said during his end-of-year press conference that “few embody those values and ideals like our brave men and women in uniform and their families. So I just want to close by wishing all of them a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

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Vikings’ plane slides off Wisconsin runway, stuck for hours

The Minnesota Vikings‘ team plane slid off a Wisconsin runway in snowy conditions Friday and became stuck in the grass, leaving players waiting for hours to get off the aircraft.

A team spokesman said there were no injuries after the landing shortly after 5 p.m. Friday at Appleton International Airport. The Vikings will play the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.

Airport officials said that a rear wheel on the plane’s landing gear slid off the taxiway amid snowy conditions, the Post-Crescent of Appleton reported.

The airport did not have a staircase tall enough to reach the doorway of the stuck plane. Firetrucks arrived to retrieve passengers, but only two could leave the plane at a time.

Airport officials posted on Twitter that the first buses left for the team hotel in Appleton around 10:15 p.m. The buses arrived at the hotel in downtown Appleton about 15 minutes later, less than 14 hours before kickoff at Lambeau Field.

About 20 fans, some wearing purple Vikings jerseys, waited for the first buses to pull up to the hotel while light snow fell. A few Green Bay fans also chanted “Go Pack Go” before buses arrived.

Players and coaches seemed to make the best out of the ordeal, posting video and messages on social media.

“After hours on the (plane) the fire department came to get us! Never been on a fire truck (before) if you can’t tell,” receiver Charles Johnson said on Twitter . “Got a little surprised.”

The plane landed about 5:15 p.m. It was snowing much of the evening in Appleton, which is about 30 miles south of Green Bay.

The Vikings’ official Twitter account reported shortly after 7 p.m. Friday that “while taxiing after a safe landing, the team plane slid off the runway and became stuck.”

Shortly before midnight, the team tweeted: “Back at the team hotel, the #Vikings are nestled, all snug in their beds.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon tearfully apologizes for punching woman

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon made a tearful public apology Friday, more than two years after punching a woman and breaking bones in her face.

As Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops looked on, Mixon spoke at a news conference Friday afternoon, more than two years after he assaulted Amelia Molitor and broke her jaw and cheekbone. Mixon said he wanted to address the issue earlier, but his legal team advised him not to.

“I’m here to apologize to Miss Molitor,” he said. “I apologize to Coach Stoops, I apologize to President (David) Boren, the AD (athletic director Joe Castiglione), my teammates. And most of all, my family. I let a lot of people down.”

Mixon was suspended for a year after the incident. Though Molitor shoved and slapped him first, Mixon said hitting a woman is unacceptable, even if provoked.

“Honestly, it really don’t matter what she did that night,” he said during the 26-minute session. “It’s all on me the reason why I’m in this position right now. I take full responsibility of what happened that night. It’s never OK to hit a woman. Never. I will preach that to anybody. It’s never OK. Hopefully, people around the world will learn from my mistake, and I’m willing to teach.”

The All-Big 12 performer said if it happened now, he would respond differently.

“If I could go back, I would do whatever I could to change the outcome of that situation,” he said. “I definitely would have walked or ran away and went about the situation differently. I wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

Mixon said he was disappointed he let down his team, the university and his family. He struggled to speak when he began talking about the impact on his mother, a single parent who watched the video with him along with Norman Police a few days after the incident.

“My mother, she worked hard, and I disappointed her,” he said. “She’s my queen, and I apologize to you, mom.”

Mixon’s legal advisers released video of the punch last week, and Mixon said he wishes it had come out sooner. Since the video came out, there has been a backlash against Mixon, Stoops and the university. Mixon said he hasn’t paid attention to his fellow students much on campus, but his teammates have been supportive.

“I can’t do nothing but thank my teammates for lifting up my spirits,” he said. “Just wanting me to come out and go hard for them every day, and I feel like honestly that’s how I give back to them. I can only lead by example on and off the field by words, by my actions. Honestly, I’m willing to do anything for my teammates.”

Mixon said he has matured and learned since July 2014.

“Well, at the time, as you guys know, I was 17, 18 years old,” he said. “I was young. Right now I’m 20 years old. I’ve grown up a lot over the 2 1/2-3 years I’ve been at OU. Like I said, I can’t do nothing but thank coach Stoops for giving me a second chance and having me prove to everyone that I deserve it.”

Mixon said he’s willing to speak against violence against women so others can learn from his mistake.

“I think when I have the opportunity to do that I’ll seize the moment and do whatever I can to be the person – the bigger person – and the man I should be,” he said. “I want to be that influence for young kids that are lost out there or in certain situations I was in. Hopefully, I can teach them for the next time and how to react a certain way.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press

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Florida man charged with threatening Donald Trump on Facebook

A Florida man is in jail on charges that he threatened President-elect Donald Trump on Facebook.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that a federal judge on Friday ordered Kevin Krohn held without bond until another hearing next week.

The Secret Service arrested the 59-year-old Krohn on Thursday at his suburban Fort Lauderdale home after agents say he posted at least two threats against Trump. In one, he allegedly wrote that he was glad President Barack Obama hadn’t seized his guns “because I see a good use for one now” over a picture of Trump.

In another comment about Trump, he allegedly wrote “he will never last long” above a picture of a man holding a sniper rifle.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent Krohn.

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Rick Scott hands Pam Bondi complaint to new prosecutor

Gov. Rick Scott has assigned a complaint filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi to a prosecutor in southwest Florida.

The complaint stems from scrutiny this year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from President-elect Donald Trump in 2013.

Bondi asked for the donation around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

A Massachusetts attorney filed numerous complaints against Bondi, including one that asked State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate Trump’s donation.

Ober asked Scott in September to appoint a different prosecutor because Bondi used to work for him.

Scott assigned the case Friday to State Attorney Stephen Russell, who has one year to decide whether the complaint has any merit.

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Go-ahead given for deepening Port Everglades

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been given the green light to move forward with a plan to deepen and widen Port Everglades.

Port officials said Thursday that the corps can move ahead with the project now that President Obama signed into the law last week the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

The project will deepen the port’s navigational channel to 48 feet from 42 feet and widen the entrance so that cargo ships can get past docked cruise ships.

The plan also calls for planting 103,000 new nursery-raised coral in 18 acres of existing reef areas and creating five acres of artificial reef by relocating around 11,500 corals.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Florida Health Department approves seventh marijuana license

Less than two weeks before Florida’s constitutional amendment expanding the legal use of medical marijuana takes effect, the state’s Department of Health has approved a seventh license and could be on the verge of adding at least one more.

Department spokeswoman Sarah Revell said they have reached an agreement with McRory’s Sunny Hill Nursery for the seventh license. The nursery is affiliated with GrowHealthy and will operate an indoor facility in Lake Worth.

The department also agreed to settle with Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm. Both nurseries are working on potential terms to present to the department. That would resolve the last of the 13 administrative challenges filed by nurseries not selected for the first five licenses last December by the Office of Compassionate Use.

Through settlements and administrative challenges, two additional licenses have been awarded so far. The state’s Division of Administrative Hearings ruled in February that a Northeast Florida nursery should have received a license due to a background check being wrongly disqualified.

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters, takes effect on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments once a new set of rules are adopted and implemented.

The state legislature and Department of Health have six months to revise current rules and must implement them within nine months. The Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee conducted a workshop hearing last week to begin the process.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded in March to allow patients with terminal conditions access to higher strength cannabis.

The March legislation also ensures that once the patient registry reaches 250,000, an additional three licenses will be made available, one of which will be designated for black farmers.

The state registry currently has 340 physicians and 1,495 registered patients but state officials anticipate a significant increase once the amendment is implemented.

Four organizations have been approved for distributing authorization and are doing in-home delivery throughout the state.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda named AP Entertainer of the year

Winning a Pulitzer Prize and a clutch of Tony Awards in a single one year would be enough for anyone. Not Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not in 2016.

The “Hamilton” writer-composer picked up those honors and also earned a Golden Globe nomination, won the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, wrote music for a top movie, and inspired a best-selling book, a best-selling album of “Hamilton” covers and a popular PBS documentary.

A new honor came Wednesday when Miranda bested Beyonce, Adele and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, among others, to be named The Associated Press Entertainer of the Year, voted by members of the news cooperative and AP entertainment reporters.

“There’s been more than a little good luck in the year itself and the way it’s unfolded,” Miranda said after being told of the honor. “I continue to try to work on the things I’ve always wanted to work on and try to say yes to the opportunities that I’d kick myself forever if I didn’t jump at them.”

Miranda joins the list of previous AP Entertainer of the Year winners who in recent years have included Adele, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Tina Fey and Betty White. The animated Disney juggernaut “Frozen” captured the prize in 2014, and “Star Wars” won last year. (By the way, Miranda wrote one of the songs in “The Force Awakens.”)

When he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in October, he somewhat tongue-in-cheek acknowledged the rarity of having a theater composer as host, saying: “Most of you watching at home have no idea who I am.”

They surely must by now.

Miranda was virtually everywhere in popular culture this year — stage, film, TV, music and politics, while engaging on social media as he went. Like a lyric he wrote for Alexander Hamilton, it seemed at times that the non-stop Miranda was working as if he was “running out of time.”

Julio D. Diaz, of the Pensacola News Journal, said Miranda “made the whole world sing, dance and think. Coupled with using his prestige to become involved in important sociopolitical issues, there was no greater or more important presence in entertainment in 2016.”

Among the things Miranda did this year are asking Congress to help dig Puerto Rico out of its debt crisis, getting an honorary doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, performing at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton on Broadway, lobbying to stop gun violence in America and teaming up with Jennifer Lopez on the benefit single “Love Make the World Go Round.”

He and his musical “Hamilton” won 11 Tony Awards in June, but perhaps his deepest contribution that night was tearfully honoring those killed hours before at an Orlando nightclub with a beautiful sonnet: “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside,” he said. “Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

He started the year onstage in the Broadway hit “Hamilton” (which in 2015 had won a Grammy and earned Miranda a MacArthur genius grant) and ended it with a Golden Globe nomination for writing the song “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” which was on top of the box office for three weeks this month, earning $165 million.

“I’ve been jumping from thing to thing and what’s been thrilling is to see the projects that happen very quickly kind of exploding side-by-side with the projects I’ve been working on for years,” Miranda said.

Though theater fans have long cherished his fluency in both Stephen Sondheim and Tupac, “Hamilton” helped Miranda break into the mainstream in 2016. The groundbreaking, biographical hip-hop show tells the true story of an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who rises to the highest ranks of American society, told by a young African-American and Latino cast.

The cast went to the White House in March to perform songs from the show for the first family and answer questions from school children. A version of the show opened in Chicago in October and a production is slated to land in California next year and in London soon.

When the gold-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team returned from the Rio Olympics, where do you think they wanted to go? “Hamilton,” naturally, which they did in August.

The show’s effects were felt across the nation this year, cheered by politicians, stars and rappers alike and even helping shape the debate over the nation’s currency (Hamilton stays on the $10 bill, in part due to Miranda’s show.)

But the musical also sparked controversy when the cast delivered a pointed message about diversity to Vice President-elect Mike Pence while he attended a performance in November. President-elect Donald Trump demanded an apology, which did not come.

That kerfuffle was part of a “Hamilton”-heavy fall that included an album of celebrity covers and songs called “The Hamilton Mixtape,” as well as a documentary on the show that aired on PBS and attracted more than 3.6 million television viewers.

Erin O’Neill of The Marietta Times said Miranda dominated entertainment news this year but, more importantly, “opened a dialogue about government, the founding of our country and the future of politics in America.”

There’s more Miranda to come in 2017, including filming Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” with Emily Blunt (due out Christmas 2018) and an ambitious TV and film adaptation of the fantasy trilogy “The Kingkiller Chronicle.”

“I’m back in a planting mode after a harvest,” Miranda said, laughing.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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U.S. election voted top news story of 2016

The turbulent U.S. election, featuring Donald Trump‘s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, was the overwhelming pick for the top news story of 2016, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story also was a dramatic upset — Britons’ vote to leave the European Union. Most of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected a year marked by political upheaval, terror attacks and racial divisions.

Last year, developments related to the Islamic State group were voted as the top story — the far-flung attacks claimed by the group, and the intensifying global effort to crush it.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.

Here are 2016’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.

2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and oddsmakers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.

3. BLACKS KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.

6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.

7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in the run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.

8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.

9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.

10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Stories that did not make the top 10 included Europe’s migrant crisis, the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the spread of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Vandals attack pentagram erected to protest Nativity scene

A 300-pound metal sculpture of a satanic pentagram, erected as an atheist protest to a public park’s Nativity scene, was severely damaged on Tuesday when it was pulled to the ground by vandals.

Atheist Preston Smith‘s 10-foot tall sculpture lay broken in Sanborn Square at noon. Tire tracks led from the twisted metal to the street.

It appeared vandals had attached a chain from a vehicle to the sculpture and yanked it down, dragging it several feet. As local television reporters prepared live broadcasts, two passers-by stopped and pushed the sculpture back onto its base before walking away.

The sculpture sits about 20 feet from a traditional Nativity scene of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and is backed by a banner from an atheist group reading “Keep Saturn in Saturnalias,” a reference to the belief that the early Christian church substituted Christmas for a Roman pagan holiday.

It is the latest Florida protest against manger scenes on public property, mirroring earlier battles inside the state capitol in Tallahassee.

Boca Raton police officer Sandra Boonenberg said the overnight strike was the third attack on Smith’s sculpture and its explanatory banner since he erected the display earlier this month. Someone painted the once-red sculpture black on Monday. Earlier, someone damaged the banner. Detectives are investigating.

Smith, a middle school English teacher, said that as an atheist, he does not believe in God nor Satan, but is using a symbol often associated with devil worship to highlight his belief that religious displays have no place on public property, because they make non-believers “feel like second-class citizens.”

“We are here to call out Christian hypocrisy and theistic bias in taxpayer-funded public arenas while advocating for the separation of church and state,” he told The Associated Press. “Our ultimate goal is to return the government to its viewpoint neutral stance so that when an atheist takes a stroll through the park we aren’t assaulted by Bronze Age mythology.”

He said the vandalism “feels like Saudi Arabia, not America.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can allow religious displays on public property, but if they do, they cannot discriminate. Both the Nativity scene and the Pentagram were installed with city permits.

A group of local religious leaders – 14 ministers, two rabbis and the president of the city’s mosque – placed a banner next to Smith’s sculpture criticizing its placement.

“The use of satanic symbols is offensive and harmful to our community’s well-being,” the banner reads. “We find it a shameful and hypocritical way to advocate for freedom from religion.”

The city issued a statement saying that while it respects Smith’s free-speech rights, it doesn’t support his message.

“In years past, the seasonal, religious displays in Sanborn Square have contained messages projecting the themes of peace, forgiveness and harmony,” it said. “This display appears to be more about shock value, attention and challenging our commitment to constitutionally protected free speech rather than promoting goodwill, respect and tolerance during the holiday season.”

Passer-by Judy Hill, a retired information technology worker, decried the vandalism but didn’t think Smith should have erected his sculpture next to the Nativity scene.

“I know there is freedom of speech, but there is a time and place for everything,” said Hill, a Methodist. “He just wanted to get publicity and he got it.”

In 2013 and 2014, atheists erected protest displays in the Florida capitol after a Christian group placed a manger there. Those displays included a Festivus pole made of beer cans, a depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a mock god popular among non-believers, and one showing an angel falling into flames with the message “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple.” The latter was damaged by a vandal.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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