Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital, smashing US policy
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem Wednesday, declaring the sorely divided holy city as Israel's capital and sparking frustrated Palestinians to cry out that he had destroyed already-fragile Mideast hopes for peace.
Defying dire, worldwide warnings, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision merely based on reality to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government. He also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable.
“We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past,” Trump said, brushing aside the appeals for caution from around the world.
Harsh objections came from a wide array of presidents and prime ministers. From the Middle East to Europe and beyond, leaders cautioned Trump that any sudden change on an issue as sensitive as Jerusalem not only risks blowing up the new Arab-Israeli peace initiative led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but could lead to new violence in the region.
No government beyond Israel spoke up in praise of Trump or suggested it would follow his lead.
House OKs GOP bill expanding gun owners' rights
WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans rammed a bill through the House on Wednesday that would make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, the first significant action on guns in Congress since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people.
The House approved the bill, 231-198, largely along party lines. Six Democrats voted yes, while 14 Republicans voted no.
The measure would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons. It now goes to the Senate.
Republicans said the reciprocity measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill could endanger public safety by overriding state laws that place strict limits on guns.
Bel-Air wildfire joins the siege across Southern California
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A wildfire erupted in Los Angeles' exclusive Bel-Air section Wednesday as yet another part of Southern California found itself under siege from an outbreak of wind-whipped blazes that have consumed multimillion-dollar houses and tract homes alike.
Hundreds of homes across the L.A. metropolitan area and beyond were feared destroyed since Monday, but firefighters were only slowly managing to make their way into some of the hard-hit areas for an accurate count.
As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported.
From the beachside city of Ventura, where rows of homes were levelled, to the rugged foothills north of Los Angeles, where more than two dozen horses died at a boarding stable, to Bel-Air, where the rich and famous have sweeping views of L.A. below, fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.
“God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job,” said Maurice Kaboud, who ignored an evacuation order and stood in his backyard with a garden hose at the ready.
As Franken's support collapses, Democrats expect resignation
WASHINGTON (AP) - His once-promising political career in shambles, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the verge of resigning after fellow Democrats led by female senators abandoned him Wednesday over the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that are roiling Capitol Hill.
A majority of the Senate's Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to get out after another woman emerged Wednesday saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. That brought to at least seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety.
Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” scheduled an announcement for Thursday. No topic was specified, but Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken's resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.
Count the ways: How GOP tax plans would reward rich families
WASHINGTON (AP) - Life may be about to get easier for people with rich parents. They can thank the Republicans' tax plans.
Part of their prep school tuition could be shielded from taxes. A larger chunk of their inheritances would be free of estate tax. Family-owned businesses they have a stake in could be taxed at a discount. Stock portfolios gifted to them by their parents may keep climbing because of lower corporate tax rates. And their parents could enjoy a bigger child tax credit than poor working families would.
All told, such perks could further widen America's increased wealth gap.
“It's a pretty clear case to make that this helps wealthy children because they're the children of shareholders,” said Kimberly Clausing, an economics professor at Reed College in Oregon who has worked on research with the left-leaning Washington Center on Equitable Growth.
Government and outside analyses of the House and Senate tax bills show that the benefits would flow disproportionately to the wealthy. Aides to President Donald Trump argue that lower tax rates for companies and the wealthy would trickle into substantial pay raises for middle-income workers. In fact, Trump told middle class families at the White House on Tuesday that the tax cuts would leave them flush with cash.
'Most vulnerable' dying in 'America's Finest City'
SAN DIEGO (AP) - Like other West Coast cities, San Diego is confronting a homeless crisis.
Spiraling real estate values have contributed to spiraling homelessness, leaving more than 3,200 people living on the streets or in their cars.
Most alarmingly, the deplorable sanitary conditions help spread a liver-damaging virus that lives in feces, contributing to the deadliest U.S. hepatitis A epidemic in 20 years.
The result? Legions of Californians without shelter. A spreading contagion. And an extraordinary challenge to the city's sunny identity that threatens its key tourism industry.
Facing an acute shortage of housing for the poor, San Diego is turning to tents to get people off the streets for now.
On Jerusalem, Trump's view moulded by powerful allies
WASHINGTON (AP) - Nearly two years ago, novice presidential candidate Donald Trump was booed by a group of influential Jewish Republicans when he punted a question about whether he backed Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
On Wednesday, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to take that position, capping a steady, if unlikely, evolution for a billionaire who had no experience dealing with the perilous politics of the Mideast when he first launched his presidential bid.
The decision reflects the influence of powerful allies in Trump's inner circle, including Vice-President Mike Pence and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, men determined to coach Trump on the issue and its importance to conservative Jews and evangelical Christians. It comes despite widespread criticism from allies in the Middle East and Europe, and concerns from some members of his own Cabinet.
“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital,” Trump said from the White House. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It's something that has to be done.”
It is not something any other president has followed through on, despite similar campaign promises.
Gay marriage advocates celebrate ahead of Australian vote
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Gay rights advocates celebrated outside Australia's Parliament House on Thursday in anticipation of same-sex marriage being legalized within hours.
Scores of men and women joined in singing ahead of what was scheduled to be Parliament's final sitting day of the year.
“It's an historic day for Australia today and I think the celebrations around the country when we finally ... achieve marriage equality are going to be immense,” Janet Rice said. Rice is a minor Greens party senator who was only able to remain married to her transgender wife of 31 years, Penny, because Penny remained listed as male on her birth certificate.
Penny Wong, an opposition Labor Party senator who has two children with her lesbian partner, said: “I am feeling happy.”
The House of Representatives is widely expected to vote to at allow same-sex marriage across the nation.
Travel ban faces scrutiny from judges who blocked it before
SEATTLE (AP) - Three federal appeals court judges who blocked President Donald Trump's second travel ban earlier this year had some skeptical questions about his third and latest set of restrictions on travellers from six mostly Muslim nations during oral arguments on Wednesday.
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Ronald Gould, Richard Paez and Michael Hawkins heard arguments in Seattle on Hawaii's challenge to the ban.
The hearing came just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it was allowing the restrictions to go into effect at least until the 9th Circuit panel and their colleagues on the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit had a chance to rule on separate lawsuits against the ban.
Debate over the restrictions has centred on whether they constitute a legitimate exercise of national security powers or the “Muslim ban” Trump promised during his campaign.
But much of Wednesday's arguments focused on a narrower point: whether the president satisfied immigration law in issuing his latest travel order, which targets 150 million potential travellers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.