Month: November 2019

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Records Threatened From NY to Texas With Blast of Arctic Air…


Arctic Blast to Shatter Mid-November Cold Records
  • A strong cold front is plunging through the U.S.
  • This front will deliver the coldest air of the season so far for many in the eastern half of the country.
  • Numerous daily cold records for mid-November will be set.
  • A freeze is possible as far south as parts of the Gulf Coast.

A powerful arctic cold front is plunging through the U.S. and will deliver the coldest air of the season to the central, southern and eastern United States, shattering scores of mid-November records in the process.

The front was slicing through the Northeast and Southeast early Tuesday, with frigid temperatures by mid-November standards already in place across the nation’s mid-section.

Morning temperatures have already plunged to the single digits as far south as the Texas Panhandle, with some subzero lows in parts of the Northern Plains and upper Midwest.

Indianapolis plunged to the single digits Tuesday morning, the earliest in the fall they had ever done so in records dating to 1871.

Des Moines, Iowa, was flirting with 0 degrees Tuesday morning, among the earliest in the fall they had been so cold.

(MAPS: Current Temperatures | Current Wind Chills)


The front first arrived in the northern Plains and northern Rockies Sunday, plunged through much of the Plains and Midwest Monday.

Among daily record lows set Monday included minus-21 degrees in Turner, Montana, 13 degrees in Chicago and 16 degrees in St. Louis. Record cold highs set Monday included 8 degrees in Dickinson, North Dakota, and 18 degrees in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Temperatures on Monday afternoon stayed well below freezing as far south as the mid-Mississippi Valley and Central Plains. These were daytime highs more typical of January than November.

Even South Texas was involved, where a Monday heat index in the low 90s was followed by a Tuesday morning wind chill in the low 30s.

As of early Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service was forecasting over 360 additional daily cold records could be tied or set Tuesday through Thursday morning in the U.S., including both record lows and record cold high temperatures for a particular day.

Timing the Cold Blast

The next round of shivering temperatures arrived in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest Sunday and plunged quickly into the Southern Plains and Ohio Valley on Monday. The front will barrel through the East Coast and Deep South Tuesday, then through the rest of the Florida Peninsula by Wednesday.


The animation above indicates the timing of the arctic cold front. The contours show departures from average-high temperatures each day. The areas in the purple and pink contours will have the coldest air, relative to mid-November averages.

Tuesday’s highs may be the coldest on record for Nov. 12 over a widespread area from the Northeast and Great Lakes into the Ohio Valley and lower Mississippi Valley. Highs may be stuck below freezing as far south as Tennessee and in the 40s as far south as the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

(MAPS: 10-Day Forecast Highs and Lows)

The National Weather Service noted subfreezing high temperatures Tuesday in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Paducah, Kentucky, would be their record-earliest-in-season such occurrence, something more typical in mid-December.

Wednesday’s highs may still be stuck in the 40s in the Deep South and the 50s in parts of North Florida and the northern Gulf Coast.


Lows in the teens are expected Wednesday morning as far south as the Tennessee Valley.

The Deep South should see lows in the 20s Wednesday morning, and the season’s first freeze is possible along parts of the northern Gulf Coast, including Houston and New Orleans, by that time. Parts of North Florida will shiver with lows in the 30s Wednesday morning.

(MORE: When Your First Freeze Typically Arrives)

Lows in the interior Northeast should plunge into the teens, with 20s along the Interstate 95 corridor and coast by Wednesday and Thursday mornings. A few lows between 10 and minus 10 degrees are expected in northern New England by Thursday morning.

Well over 100 daily record lows will be threatened in the East and South Wednesday morning, and a smattering of daily records are possible in the Northeast Thursday morning.


As it turns out, a number of daily record lows for Nov. 12 and 13 that had stood since 1911 – which brought one of the most extreme cold fronts in U.S. history – are in jeopardy through Wednesday morning, including in Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Tulsa and St. Louis.

While another cold blast is expected to sweep into the Northeast this weekend, some relief from the cold air will gradually build into the Plains states this week into early next week.

(MORE: November 2019 U.S. Temperature Outlook)


Long Range Temperature Outlook

(This outlook, from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, shows the probabilities of above (tan, orange, red contours) or below (blue contours) average temperatures in the period specified. )

Similar to November 2018?

November 2018 was one of the 10 coldest Novembers on record for Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Kansas City, Missouri, shivered through its coldest November on record.

The only warmer-than-average areas last November were found along the West Coast, and in Alaska and Florida.

The upper-level pattern last year also brought a persistent southward dip in the jet stream over the central and eastern U.S., which led to the chilly November for much of the country.


Average State Temperature in November 2018

(Data: NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information)

The focus of the most anomalous cold and its impacts this year may be in different locations than November 2018, but the overall pattern suggests that a chilly November may be ahead for the second year in a row.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.



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Defense firms on track to make killer bots reality…


Weapons built by defense manufacturers that can think for themselves are getting smarter, which mean the much-feared killer robot could be a reality sooner than later. That’s the warning contained in a new report from Pax, a nonprofit based in the Netherlands that campaigns for peace around the world.

Killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems, are designed to make life-or-death decisions on their own, without human control. It’s a worrying leap that’s been called the “third revolution in warfare,” after gunpowder and the atomic bomb. Both activists and military leaders have called for international regulations to govern these weapons, or even ban them outright, but key governments—like the United States and Russia—have so far resisted.

As far as anyone knows, militaries have yet to actually deploy killer robots on the battlefield, at least offensively. But Pax has identified at least 30 global arms manufacturers that don’t have policies against developing these kinds of weapons systems, and are reportedly doing so at a rate that is outpacing regulation.

The companies include US defense firms Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, the Chinese state-owned conglomerates AVIC and CASC, Israeli firms IAI, Elbit, and Rafael, Rostec of Russia, and Turkey’s STM.

“As long as states haven’t agreed to collectively come up with some kind of regulatory regime, or ideally, a preemptive ban, the fear is very real that companies will be crossing this plane and will develop and produce and eventually field weapons that lack sufficient human control,” the report’s author, Frank Slijper, told Quartz.

Activists don’t believe that military use of some degree of artificial intelligence is problematic in it itself. The US military is already employing full autonomy in some of its defensive weapons platforms, like the US Navy’s Aegis shipboard missile defense system, which is designed to intercept enemy fire on its own. The US Army is developing an AI-capable cannon, which would select and engage targets on its own, as well as AI-assisted tanks that, as Quartz first reported, will be able to “acquire, identify, and engage targets” at least three times faster than any human. But these systems still all require a person to pull the trigger, so to speak.

PAX is more concerned about the potential deployment of AI in offensive systems that would select and attack targets on their own without human oversight. The group questions how these weapons would distinguish between combatants and civilians, or judge proportional responses. Legal experts still don’t know who would be held responsible if an autonomous weapon broke international law. And without lives on the line, these weapons could make it easier to go to war, and for those wars to escalate more quickly.

The report warns that such weapons would “violate fundamental legal and ethical principles and would destabilize international peace and security.”

What they’re building

Defense firms don’t produce weapons in a vacuum, Slijper said. Instead, he said, these weapons are developed because companies believe that’s what militaries want in their arsenals.

And unlike Google or Amazon, which have both faced public and internal backlash for their work on military systems, companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon do almost all of their business with militaries, so they face little risk from the negative reaction of consumers.

For its report, Pax sent questionnaires to 50 arms manufacturers that produce military systems, asking each if it had policies regarding autonomous weapons. Just eight firms said they had in place principals guiding their AI work. The rest did not reply.

Here’s what they told Pax:

Company Country Response
BAE Systems UK Policy supports “our customers’ view that there needs to be human input over the use of force” and “we believe that the use of autonomous systems does not mean a loss of command or the abdication of responsibility for decisions.”
Leonardo Italy “The use of autonomous systems in safety-critical contexts must be subject to supervision and human control. […] Committed to respect of core principles of [International Humanitarian Law].”
Milrem Estonia “Human control should always be maintained over all defence systems, including weapon systems…We always choose partners who share and adhere to the same values and positions we do.”
Northrop Grumman US “Not developing weapon systems that can autonomously select and attack targets without meaningful human controlcompany policies, practices and procedures reflect a strong commitment to human rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
QinetiQ UK “Policy prohibits the development of any system capable of firing a weapon without human intervention.”
ST Engineering Singapore “Complies fully with all Singapore laws and regulations on manufacturing of military products. Beyond Singapore, we also observe all UN sanctions and abide to all treaty obligations to which Singapore is a signatory.”
Thales France Working on “TrUE AI, an AI that is Transparent, Understandable and Ethical, where humans always remain in control.”
Volvo Sweden “Activities have no link with research on lethal autonomous weapons. Policy “has always been that a weapon should be at all times under meaningful human control, and that under no circumstance a weapon could autonomously open fire.”

Of the weapons that exist now, Slijper said he is particularly worried about “loitering munitions.” Pax describes these as hybrids between drones and guided missiles, which can “loiter” in the air for two hours or more before attacking their targets. Small, cheap and relatively easy to produce, the number of companies developing these weapons has grown considerably in the last 10 years, Slijper said. With so much availability, it’s only a matter of time before they are deployed in a large scale by both state and non-state actors alike.

The Pax report singled out two companies that are now manufacturing such weapons:

  • STM, a Turkish state-owned defense company, produces an AI-equipped loitering munition called KARGU. Complete with facial recognition capabilities, KARGU can autonomously select and attack targets using coordinates pre-selected by an operator. Turkey is reportedly set to use these “kamikaze drones” in Syria.
  • The Harpy, a “fire and forget” loitering munition manufactured by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, has a range of 62 miles and can stay aloft for two hours. IAI states that the system “loiters in the air waiting for the target to appear and then attacks and destroys the hostile threat within seconds.”

What’s next

While development of autonomous weapons continues apace, Pax believes there is still time to head off eventual catastrophe. The group said companies can play a crucial role in this, and should first make a public pledge against the manufacture of fully autonomous lethal weapons. As far as AI-assisted weapons systems go, Pax believes defense firms must “establish a clear corporate policy with implementation measures” that include:

  • Ensuring each new project is assessed by an ethics committee;
  • Ensuring the principle of meaningful human control is an integral part of the design and development of weapon systems;
  • Adding a clause in contracts, especially in collaborations with ministries of defense and arms producers, stating that the technology developed may not be used in lethal autonomous weapon systems;
  • Ensure employees are well informed about what they work on and allow open discussions on any related concerns.

Aside from a German arms industry association, which called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons systems earlier this year, most companies have not committed to any regulations, according to Pax.

It is important for nations to immediately take “bold steps to stop lethal autonomous weapons from becoming reality,” the report says. Yet, while Australia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru have been outspoken in their opposition to fully autonomous weapons, the US and Russia have so far stymied any attempts to pass a unified international treaty.

“Also countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Iraq have been supporters of a ban treaty,” Slijper said. “Probably quite understandable that some of the countries that over the past two decades have experienced drone warfare are probably anxious for what the future might bring to them.”



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The West's left-right battle lines run through Brazil…


Published


“They did not jail a man,” declared the released prisoner. “They tried to kill an idea, and ideas don’t disappear.”

The freed man was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former left-wing Brazilian president who was jailed last year on corruption charges that his supporters believe were politically motivated. Lula left office in 2010 with a staggering 80 percent approval rating and was favored to be on course to return to power in 2018; his imprisonment paved the path to the presidency for far-right firebrand Jair Bolsonaro, who, both on the campaign trail and now in office, has loudly banged the drum against perceived perfidy and tyranny of leftist dogma.

But last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that Lula, as well dozens of others ensnared in a rolling corruption probe that reshaped Brazilian politics, had been unjustly jailed without receiving due process – that is, they had been denied the ability to exhaust their right to appeal their sentences before imprisonment. On Friday, Lula walked out of jail and was greeted by a throng of supporters from his left-leaning Workers’ Party.


“You have no idea of the meaning of me being here with you,” he said soon after his release in the southern city of Curitiba. “I, who have been speaking to the Brazilian people through all my life, did not think that I would be able to speak today . . . Every day you were the democracy’s fuel I needed to exist.”

From thousands of miles to the north came a striking message of support. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted his admiration for Lula’s socially minded policies and decried his imprisonment. “I am delighted that he has been released from jail, something that never should have happened in the first place,” Sanders said. Lula thanked the U.S. candidate for his “solidarity,” and expressed his “hope” that the Democrats “have the wisdom to nominate a candidate with your worldview.”

The stage is set for an emboldened and aggrieved Lula to take the fight to Bolsonaro, who has courted President Donald Trump as part of a new hemispheric right-wing axis. “If we work hard, in 2022 the so-called left that Bolsonaro is so afraid of will defeat the ultraright,” Lula declared in a 45-minute speech he gave Saturday, vowing to build a new coalition to take down Bolsonaro.


Even before his release, he cast his struggle in more global terms. In a letter addressed to Britain’s Labour Party that he wrote from prison earlier this year, Lula inveighed against the “austerity” championed by Bolsonaro’s administration, what he deemed “the magic and wretched word that the rich everywhere use to attack the rights and achievements of the working class.” He went on: “‘We need to save resources, cut costs,’ they say, as they disassemble the state and become ever richer while the poor become ever poorer. So it is in the United Kingdom, so it is once again in Brazil.”

Bolsonaro has anchored his politics in a rejection of years of left-wing rule, unraveling environmental protections, seeking to privatize state institutions, and dabbling in an angry culture war targeting indigenous and LGBT rights. After Lula’s release, he heaped scorn on his leftist adversary. “Let’s not give space to compromise with a convict,” Bolsonaro told supporters in Brasilia. “Do not give ammunition to the scoundrel, who is momentarily free but full of guilt.”

Indeed, there’s plenty Lula still has to overcome. “The legal path ahead of Lula, Brazil’s first working-class president, remains treacherous,” wrote my colleague Terrence McCoy and Heloisa Traiano. “He faces eight other trials on charges of corruption and money laundering. In 2016, as part of the Operation Car Wash investigation, Lula was accused of peddling government influence for renovations to his beachfront property.”

Lula was hardly the only official caught up in the dragnet of Operation Car Wash, which implicated others in his own party as well as numerous politicians in factions further to the right in various cases of alleged bribery, graft, and kickbacks for state contracts. His defenders question the specific charges against him and the evidence upon which they are based. Now‚ the country’s byzantine appellate process may mean the proceedings against Lula drag on in the background for many months to come as he works freely to mobilize the Brazilian opposition.

Recent revelations about the apparent secret collaboration between the prosecutors and the chief judge in charge of Operation Car Wash – who now also happens to be Bolsonaro’s justice minister – have further sharpened the impression that Lula was rushed into prison and then barred from running for office to prevent his return to power. The politicization of Lula’s travails has also been brought into stark relief by the myriad controversies spiraling around Bolsonaro, including a troubling new report linking his family to the assassination of a socialist politician in Rio de Janeiro.

Some Brazilian commentators observed this weekend that the former president is emerging from his time in prison a more galvanized and possibly more radical figure, inflamed by a desire to roll back the far-right advance in his country. In his time in office between 2003 and 2010, Lula invested heavily in a slate of social programs that brought millions of people into the Brazilian middle class, a legacy that underscores his vast popularity to this day. Lula’s life story is that of a populist folk hero: He grew up in deep poverty, only learned to read at the age of 10, worked as a factory laborer and, as a union organizer, was hounded and briefly jailed by the country’s military dictatorship – the same junta routinely celebrated by Bolsonaro and his allies.

Latin America has a tangled, sprawling history of left-wing politics clashing against more reactionary forces. Just this weekend in Bolivia, mass protests and then an army and police insurrection compelled long-ruling President Evo Morales to give up a controversial bid to extend his rule. Lula, widely described when in power as a “moderate” leftist, presents an altogether different figure.

He “is the rare politician whose fate concerns a global audience,” wrote Andre Pagliarini, a historian of Latin American politics, pointing to Lula’s record of achieving both social uplift and economic prosperity. Pagliarini added: “It requires no stretch of the imagination . . . to imagine Lula as a bulwark against the reactionary right’s further advance in Brazil and Latin America more broadly.”



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Elderly woman picked up heavy chair, lifted over head…


They arrive with a crucifix, a book of prayers, holy water and a conviction that the Holy Spirit is at their side.

Infrequently summoned for decades, Catholic exorcists say they are now being beckoned across Minnesota and the nation, as pleas from the faithful to “cast out the devil” are on the rise.

“Sometimes they hear voices in their heads,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “They have reactions they don’t understand. Fits of rage. Sometimes it’s a depression they just can’t shake and psychologists can’t help.”

Exorcism, often considered a relic of the Dark Ages, is making a 21st-century comeback. Catholic dioceses, including in St. Cloud and Winona-Rochester, say they now are sending their exorcists to a new U.S. institute that trains spiritual warriors. No official data are available, but Catholic leaders say there are more Catholic exorcists in the United States today than at any time in recent memory.

“When I first was appointed as exorcist in 2005, I knew of only a dozen exorcists in the United States,” said the Rev. Vincent Lampert, exorcist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and one of a handful of American exorcists public about their work. “Today I’d say there are at least 175 — and more each year.”

That’s not to mention the countless faith leaders for charismatic and Pentecostal communities who believe in casting out demons.

But psychologists warn that even well-intentioned treatment of traumatized people can aggravate the situation. They urge individuals to focus on evidence-based interventions.

“There are treatments for trauma supported by strong scientific evidence, but exorcism is not among them,” said University of Minnesota psychology Prof. Patricia Frazier.

The Twin Cities Archdiocese is currently working with “several dozen” people, Cozzens said.

But not everyone who believes they are possessed and requests an exorcism gets one, church leaders say.

The archdiocese exorcist, Cozzens said, collaborates with several professionals to evaluate the situation. The church encourages people to seek medical or mental health help if deemed necessary, the protocol urged by the Vatican. But if the person exhibits what Catholics view as hallmarks of the devil, such as extraordinary strength or speaking in unknown languages, the spiritual battle begins.

Priests trained for combat

Most U.S. exorcists are parish priests tapped for the work, and they shun being identified to avoid unwanted attention. That was the case with two Minnesota exorcists interviewed for this story. Every bishop must appoint someone to the task. Their preparation ranges from training in Rome to mentoring with a local exorcist.

A growing number from Minnesota are heading to the Pope Leo XIII Institute based in Illinois, founded several years ago by Midwestern Catholics to offer intensive courses on the scriptural basis for exorcisms and how to perform them. The exorcists can now use the first English-language version of the medieval Latin exorcism prayers, which became available in 2017.

Lampert belongs to a small group of exorcists who regularly speak and even tweet about the issue. Perhaps because of this, he said he receives 30 to 40 calls a week from “all types of people,” high schoolers to seniors, men and women, bankers to the unemployed, Catholic and not.

He is among the exorcists appointed after Pope John Paul II asked every diocese to designate an exorcist to battle the growing threats from the occult and other practices.

“I’ve seen eyes rolling to the back of the head, foaming at the mouth, people hissing, people speaking in strange voices … ” Lampert said.

He said one elderly woman picked up a heavy chair and lifted it over her head.

“That catches your attention,” he said.

An exorcist recites a special set of prayers over the person, directly addressing the devil and ordering him out in the name of Jesus. He may also recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, read Bible verses, and cast holy water. A typical session lasts about an hour, Lampert said. For others, the battle continues during several visits.

People fearing demons typically start by contacting their priest or diocese. Some believe they are cursed. Some report that their house is haunted. Some can’t shake perverse thoughts.

One woman reported that an angry co-worker carried out an animal sacrifice in her front yard, said Lampert, and asked for a blessing.

The Catholic church ranks what it sees as devil manifestations into several categories, from activity in inanimate objects such as haunted houses to an individual’s full blown “possession.” Clergy and lay people can say prayers to evict the devil in the less serious categories.

Only exorcists are permitted to drive out demons from those considered fully possessed, who have no control over their own actions. Such cases are rare, exorcists said.

“People have different reasons they seek help,” said the St. Cloud Diocese exorcist, a priest at several rural churches. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of depression and mental illness that people want to attribute to the demonic. … But there are some cases where people truly hear voices, see shadows, feel touches, and/or smell odors that have no other explanation.”

The exorcist from the Diocese of Winona-Rochester said he assisted at an exorcism of a young mother who had been consulting with a medium. He believes such experiments opened the door to evil.

“She screamed and her eyes rolled back white,” he recalled.

Cozzens, who is not the archdiocese exorcist but who has attended sessions, said the archdiocese enlists the support of four special prayer teams to pray for individuals it believes have the lesser forms of demonic influence.

“We’ve found in the past 10 years an increased need,” Cozzens said.

Mainline Protestants acknowledge that evil exists, but are likely to attribute much of the world’s evil to human actions rather than demonic possession.

“The devil has many forms, not just the cartoonish guy with the pitchfork and horns,” said the Rev. Angela Khabeb of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Why now?

While belief in organized religion has waned in recent decades, belief in the supernatural persists. Gallup and Harris polls show more than 60% of Americans believe in the devil.

What they do with that belief may be one reason for the growing demand for exorcisms, said Catholic leaders, who argue that Americans are looking for answers in all the wrong places — from YouTube videos to Ouija boards to TV series about zombies and Satan.

“People hunger for knowledge and experience of transcendental things such as God, truth, the afterlife,” said the Winona-Rochester diocese exorcist. “They’re looking in areas that are less demanding and more connected to their personal tastes.”

In addition, the range of activities now considered “demonic manifestations” have expanded, driving demand for help, said religious studies professor Joseph Laycock of Texas State University, who teaches a course on demonology.

“I don’t assume there are more demons possessing people today than in the past,” he said.

Laycock also sees competitive market forces at play. The exorcism renaissance is unfolding as other faith groups publicly engage in the practice, he said. That’s particularly true of the charismatic groups that have been attracting disenchanted Catholics.

The Catholic Church on an institutional level is supporting the trend. Pope Francis frequently speaks of the reality of the devil, and has told priests that they “must not hesitate” to refer congregants to an exorcist if they experience “genuine spiritual disturbances.”

For exorcists such as Lampert, the renewed acknowledgment of the devil in the world is important. But that focus is missing the point.

“Exorcists hope that people will focus less on demons,” he said, “and more on God.”



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Nikki Haley Book, Media Blitz Have Republicans Wondering About Her Political Plans…


WASHINGTON—As Nikki Haley embarks on a publicity tour for her new book, allies of President Trump are already wondering what she is going to do next.

Almost a year after she stepped down as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Ms. Haley remains an object of fascination among Mr. Trump’s associates—and she is one of the rare former administration officials who has been able to criticize the president without inviting his fury. In her book, Ms. Haley tempers her disagreements with Mr. Trump and offers a largely positive view of her time in the administration.

Ms. Haley, a former South Carolina governor, says she chafes when people remark on her ambition, pointing to a double standard in which women are criticized for their aspirations. But that hasn’t stemmed speculation that she is laying the groundwork for a 2024 run for president.

Inside the White House, some officials view Ms. Haley with suspicion, according to aides, pointing to her past criticism of Mr. Trump and arguing she used her position as U.N. ambassador to promote herself, instead of the president’s agenda.

Ms. Haley, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has managed to maintain Mr. Trump’s support, prompting rumors that the president could ditch Vice President

Mike Pence

and instead put her on the ticket heading into the 2020 election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he intends to stick with Mr. Pence, and Ms. Haley has said she has no immediate plans to run for office.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump promoted her book on Twitter. “Make sure you order your copy today,” he wrote.

Despite impeachment proceedings, stock market highs, the Syria troop withdrawal, and the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President Trump’s approval rating remains steady. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib looks at how Trump’s numbers compare to his predecessors. Photo: Bloomberg News

Ms. Haley, a foreign policy novice prior to joining the Trump administration, was a surprising pick for the position of U.N. ambassador. She was outspoken in her criticism of Mr. Trump during his 2016 campaign—a stance that cost a number of other people top jobs within his administration when he won.

The daughter of immigrants from India, Ms. Haley during the campaign called upon voters to reject “the siren call of the angriest voices” who disrespect immigrants, alluding to Mr. Trump without naming him. Mr. Trump lashed back that ‘‘the people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley.’’

Ms. Haley didn’t wait long after being appointed to the role of U.N. ambassador to break with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy stances. At her first Senate hearing, she accused Russia of being complicit in war crimes in Syria, going against then President-elect Trump’s calls for warmer ties with Moscow.

Months into her term as ambassador, she called out Syria’s President

Bashar Assad,

saying his days of “disregard of humanity are over,” even as Mr. Trump’s top aides said his fate was something for the Syrian people alone to decide.

She also emphasized human rights as a driver of U.S. foreign policy, despite Mr. Trump’s embrace of authoritarian leaders, from Egypt’s

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi,

to Turkey’s

Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

to Russian President

Vladimir Putin.

Yet her relationship with Mr. Trump remains strong, people close to the president said.

When Ms. Haley announced her intention to step down as U.N. ambassador during an Oval Office meeting in October 2018, Mr. Trump heaped praise on her. “She has done an incredible job. She is a fantastic person,” Mr. Trump said. Ms. Haley, in turn, vowed in her resignation letter not to run for president in 2020 and said she would back Mr. Trump.

In a round of interviews this week ahead of the Tuesday release of her book, Ms. Haley repeatedly defended Mr. Trump, saying the House impeachment investigation is misguided and accusing the president’s former advisers of trying to undermine him.

Asked by CBS News if she thinks Mr. Trump will be impeached and removed from office, she said, “No. On what? You’re going to impeach a president for asking a favor that didn’t happen and giving money and it wasn’t withheld.”

In a separate interview with NPR that aired on Monday, Ms. Haley said it is “not a good practice for us ever to ask a foreign country to investigate an American,” referring to Mr. Trump’s request that Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

investigate Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President

Joe Biden,

which prompted the House impeachment inquiry. But she said Mr. Trump’s conduct wasn’t impeachable.

Ms. Haley also criticized former White House chief of staff

John Kelly

and former Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson,

who she said tried to recruit her to resist Mr. Trump’s decisions in order to save the country and protect American lives.

Representatives for Mr. Kelly and Mr. Tillerson didn’t respond to requests for comment. A former White House official said Ms. Haley had a tense relationship with both men, especially Mr. Tillerson. Several officials said she frequently bypassed the State Department on policy matters.

Political strategists said Ms. Haley’s praise of the president reflected a calculation that Mr. Trump will remain popular among Republicans, despite the impeachment investigation.

“It seems hard to imagine that sometime in the next four years he’ll turn toxic with the same Republicans that’ll walk on glass for him,” said GOP consultant Alex Conant.

But Ms. Haley’s patience with the president has limits. This summer, she pushed back on a tweet from Mr. Trump, who was engaged in a public spat with

Rep. Elijah Cummings

(D., Md.) about the state of his Baltimore district. Mr. Cummings died in October. “The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad!” Mr. Trump wrote. Ms. Haley responded, “This is so unnecessary.”

The tweet upset some in the White House. “THIS is so unnecessary,” Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, shot back. “Trump-PENCE2020.”

Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com and Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

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Spain sees widening political divide as nationalism rises…


MADRID (AP) — A general election called to end political deadlock in Spain has only deepened uncertainty about the future of the European Union’s fifth-largest economy and raised the possibility of yet another ballot — the fifth in five years — next year.

No party achieved a clear mandate to govern in Sunday’s vote, which was the second election in seven months and was intended to clear away the stalemate. Further weeks or months of political jockeying now lie ahead.

Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-of-center Socialists captured the most seats, with 120. But that is far short of a majority in the 350-seat chamber, meaning the Socialists will have to negotiate deals with other parties if they are to govern.

The outcome also threw up a new roadblock: Support surged for far-right party Vox, which was launched just six years ago.

It collected 52 seats, more than double its showing in the last election in April, making it the third largest party in parliament behind the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party, which recovered to collect 88 seats.

Across Europe, far-right parties have made gains in recent years, setting off alarm bells about the bloc’s political direction.

Some analysts put down Vox’s rise to nationalist sentiment stirred up as a result of mass protests by separatists in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia. The protests have included recent violent clashes with police that left more than 500 people injured.

The push for Catalan independence, which the national government won’t allow, is Spain’s most serious political issue in decades and shows no signs of abating. Three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats, one more than in April.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, an analyst and head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Catalan separatists helped give rise to Vox.

“The one thing that the Catalans have achieved is to get a radical right equally as radical as they are on the other end, a kind of a mirror thing and with that make everyone’s life more miserable,” he said.

On Monday, Catalan radicals resumed their protests by blocking a major highway crossing the border between France and Spain and promising to keep it closed for three days. French police pushed them back toward Spain and scuffles broke out.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal said Monday that his party won’t support a Socialist government and issued a warning: “We demand that order be restored in Catalonia.”

Contemplating the election outcome and another fragmented parliament, many people on the streets of Madrid were scratching their heads Monday over what would happen next.

“I think we are worse than before: We are more divided,” said Antonio Prados, a 44-year-old police officer. “I don’t know, there’s a possibility to form a government, but I don’t know how they will come up with the numbers.”

Andrew Dowling, an expert on contemporary Spanish politics at Cardiff University in Wales, said Sánchez’s plan to reconfigure parliament to his benefit had backfired, leaving Spain once again at the mercy of an unpredictable political landscape.

“The Spanish Socialist party made a major miscalculation in calling new elections,” Dowling said.

The next step will be for parliamentarians to select a house speaker in the coming weeks and then for talks between King Felipe VI and party leaders to begin so that one of them, most likely Sánchez, will be called on to try to form a government.

Sanchez was meeting with his party leadership later Monday. Party secretary José Ábalos said Sánchez will sound out other party leaders over the coming days and seek to form a government as soon as possible.

Ábalos said the Socialists would not build any coalitions with parties on the right, indicating it would seek support instead from other leftist groups and regional parties.

But Sánchez’s closest political allies, the left-wing United We Can party, fell from 42 to 35 seats. Sunday’s ballot also went badly for the right-of-center Citizens party, which captured just 10 seats in parliament, down from 57 seats in April. Party leader Albert Rivera quit Monday.

In all, 12 parties gained parliamentary representation.

Capital Economics, a London-based research company, said it expected no short-term economic difficulties after Sunday’s vote because Spain’s economy has remained healthy despite the past four years of political gridlock.

But it warned Monday that deep, long-term economic reforms are needed in Spain’s labor markets and pension systems to keep Spain competitive.

___

Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press reporters Helena Alves in Madrid and Felipe Dana on the France-Spain border contributed to this report.



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World's tiniest twin boys defy odds after being born at 23 weeks…


MUM Talia Keates cradles her “little miracles” — the world’s tiniest twin boys.

Ashley and Joe each weighed less than 1lb when born at 23 weeks.

 Talia Keates, mum of the world's tiniest twin boys, says her babies are 'one in a million'

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Talia Keates, mum of the world’s tiniest twin boys, says her babies are ‘one in a million’Credit: The Sun
 The boys were born at just 23 weeks and weighed less than a pound each

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The boys were born at just 23 weeks and weighed less than a pound each

The Brit mum says the boys are her “one in a million” after they defied astonishing odds to survive.

Doctors gave her 15.1oz son Joe a one per cent chance to live.

But he and battler brother Ashley — 14.2oz at birth — are now healthy at seven months.

Born at just 23 weeks, they are the smallest twins to survive in the UK.

Each weighed less than a 500ml bottle of water, and were barely bigger than Talia’s hand.

Only American sisters Rumaisa and Hiba Rahman, born in 2004, were tinier.

Nurse Talia, 32, a mother of six from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, said: “Ashley and Joe are my bouncing little miracles.

“I feel extremely lucky and very grateful. I guess they are one in a million.

“It’s truly extraordinary to think I could have the world’s smallest twin boys.”

Doctors feared for Joe when his separate amniotic sac ruptured prematurely. After birth the twins spent 129 days in intensive care.

‘TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE’

Talia added: “The doctors gave Joe just a one per cent chance after what he’d gone through.

“And the consultant said it was incredibly rare for both twins to survive with such low birth weights.

“Studies have also shown premature boys are less likely to do as well as girls. It just goes to show what incredible fighters they are.

“With all these terrible predictions we just had to focus on each day in the hospital and each milestone.”

 Both Ashley and Joe spent 129 days in intensive care after they were born

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Both Ashley and Joe spent 129 days in intensive care after they were bornCredit: The Sun
 The twins defied astonishing odds to survive, with Joe being given just one per cent chance to live by doctors

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The twins defied astonishing odds to survive, with Joe being given just one per cent chance to live by doctorsCredit: The Sun
 Talia and her husband were warned that premature boys are less likely to do as well as girls

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Talia and her husband were warned that premature boys are less likely to do as well as girlsCredit: The Sun
 She says 'it just goes to show what incredible fighters they are'

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She says ‘it just goes to show what incredible fighters they are’Credit: The Sun
 The boys were born on April 16 and were allowed home in August

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The boys were born on April 16 and were allowed home in AugustCredit: The Sun

Husband Oliver, 35, added: “It has been a very traumatic experience but we are just so truly grateful they are here.

“It has definitely brought us closer together as a family.

“We’ve been so blessed, they are our little miracle babies that complete our family.”

It’s truly extraordinary to think I could have the world’s smallest twin boys.

Talia Keates

The boys were born on April 16 — Ashley at 14.2oz (403g) and Joe 15.1oz (429g).

They were allowed home in August and are doing well. Ashley is big enough for newborn clothes and Joe is size 0-3 months.

Talia and mechanic Oliver only discovered their twins were the smallest after reading about a previous set, Rylea and Robyn Comer. Rylea weighed 15oz and Robyn 1lb 3oz.

Keith Reed, of Twins Trust, confirmed: “Ashley and Joe are the smallest we have heard of in the UK. It’s great news to hear that they are doing so well.

“It is thanks to the brilliant hospital staff for looking after tiny babies so well. This just shows why specialist care is so important.”

SURPRISE BABY

Talia and Oliver were thrilled after learning they were expecting a baby surprise — then discovered it was twins.

But at 17 weeks, there were signs of problems in the pregnancy.

Three weeks later Talia’s waters broke and the boys were born after 23 weeks. They were so premature their eyes were fused shut.

Talia added: “When we had the problems before birth, we were told to consider a termination. Then Joe’s waters broke early and they told me he may not survive and could die at birth.

“I went into labour and had Joe naturally, and Ashley by caesarean section afterwards.

“They were close together so there was a risk. They are twins but they had separate sacs.”

Staff at Southmead Hospital in Bristol were supported by the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset.

 At 17 weeks there were signs of problems in the pregnancy and three weeks later Talia's waters broke

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At 17 weeks there were signs of problems in the pregnancy and three weeks later Talia’s waters brokeCredit: The Sun
 Ashley and Joe are seven-months-old and doing well, although dad Oliver says their birth was a very traumatic experience for the family

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Ashley and Joe are seven-months-old and doing well, although dad Oliver says their birth was a very traumatic experience for the familyCredit: The Sun
 Ashley (left) is now big enough for newborn clothes and Joe is size 0-3 months

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Ashley (left) is now big enough for newborn clothes and Joe is size 0-3 monthsCredit: The Sun
 The couple say they were thrilled after learning they were expecting a baby - and were even more shocked when they discovered it was twins

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The couple say they were thrilled after learning they were expecting a baby – and were even more shocked when they discovered it was twinsCredit: The Sun

The Sun Says

WATCHING proud mum Talia Keates cradle her “little miracles” — Britain’s tiniest surviving twins — will have readers up and down the country feeling a stab of pride for our wonderful NHS.

But thanks to Labour’s economically illiterate plan to introduce a four-day week, the world-class care her family received is under threat.

Taxpayers — who are already funding the NHS to the tune of £150billion a year — simply won’t buy the mad notion that doctors and nurses should work four days while still being paid for five.

And if they are to continue providing expert health care, they must be allowed to put the hours in to train.

Corbyn and his cronies claim to love and cherish the NHS. But the truth is that our health service is not safe in their hands.

The boys were rushed into critical care where they remained for a few months.

Talia could not touch her newborns initially. She added: “On the neonatal unit they say there is a honeymoon period for about a week where they don’t get infections.

“But after that the infections started to come. It was awful, you never know if they are going to survive.

“We spent 129 days in the unit, and when they were stable enough we got transferred to a hospital closer to home. The boys are still on oxygen but that’s about it.

“Ashley was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, it’s all to do with his chronic lung disease.

“I don’t really know much about it, they both have chronic lung disease because they were born so premature.

“As they get bigger they will get over it because their lungs grow.

“When they were born they were a little longer than my hand but much thinner.

“But I wasn’t able to touch them at first. They said that if you touch them it really distresses them because their skin is so thin.

“I had to wait five weeks for a cuddle. They weren’t much bigger then though.

“I’m so grateful to Bristol Southmead hospital, they have been amazing, and the Royal United Hospital in Bath.”

The boys’ consultant Dr Paul Mannix said: “The odds are stacked against such tiny babies, let alone when they are twins.

“But Joe and Ashley were real fighters and we were over the moon we could help them make such a miraculous journey to full health.”

The odds are stacked against such tiny babies, let alone when they are twins.

Dr Paul Mannix

Talia, also mum to Imogen, eight, Jacob, seven, Theo, five, and Sebastian, three, added: “It has been a dramatic, emotional and long journey.

“It is still a long road ahead. We have regular check-ups and milestones to meet. The boys are just starting to smile and chuckle.

A hospital at its best

By Camilla Kingdon, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

TWINS born at 23 weeks with such low weights is an extraordinary event. I am not aware of it happening before.

The fact that they have survived and are now back home is testament to their family and the team at Southmead Hospital.

Modern perinatal and neonatal care is constantly advancing. It relies on teamwork between obstetricians, neonatologists, midwives, nurses and many others.

We now regularly see babies born at 23 weeks surviving and doing well.

Twin pregnancies are more complicated so this makes this story very special.

It is also a reflection of the very best of the NHS — and the hard work and commitment of dozens of dedicated staff.

“Joe weighs 11lbs and Ashley is just under 8lbs but we’re trying to beef him up a bit.

“They still are on oxygen which comes in portable packs but we have had to find a way to cope on the school run, for example.

“But as each day goes by I can breathe a bit more easily. They are all worth it. I’m loving it all.”

 Talia says it was difficult not being allowed to touch her babies, but after five weeks she was able to cuddle them

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Talia says it was difficult not being allowed to touch her babies, but after five weeks she was able to cuddle themCredit: The Sun
 The miracle twins are still on oxygen but are well enough to join their four siblings on trips to the park

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The miracle twins are still on oxygen but are well enough to join their four siblings on trips to the park


GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL exclusive@the-sun.co.uk




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Chaos at UCLA…


Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle left the stage during a joint speech Sunday in Los Angeles after a cabal led by a far-right Holocaust denier feuding with the event’s sponsors shouted them down and demanded a question-and-answer session.

The pair were promoting Trump Jr.’s book, ‘Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us.’ But it was a fringe faction of conservatives who complained loudly after Turning Point USA announced that the planned Q&A session had been canceled.

Video from the event shows chants of ‘USA’ being drowned out by shouts of ‘Q and A’ and ‘America First’ among an audience that The Guardian estimated at 450 people. A source close to Trump Jr. put the total at 1,000.

Guilfoyle, Trump Jr.’s longtime paramour who has tag-teamed dozens of public appearances with him, tried to scorch the small group of far-righters, saying she wouldn’t engage with them ‘because you’re not making your parents proud by being rude and disruptive and discourteous.’

‘Let me tell you something,’ she shouted as the chanting grew louder. ‘I bet you engage and go on online dating. Because you’re impressing no one here to get a date in person.’

A far-right cabal led by a Holocaust denier shouted Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle off the stage at UCLA on Sunday after event organizers with a pro-Trump youth group called Turning Point USA announced that a planned Q&A portion of the book tour speech had been called off

A large crowd turned out to see Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle; a source close to the president's eldest son said they spoke for more than the allotted hour and only left the stage when white nationalist protesters demanded a platform with a Q&A session

A large crowd turned out to see Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle; a source close to the president’s eldest son said they spoke for more than the allotted hour and only left the stage when white nationalist protesters demanded a platform with a Q&A session

Protesters from fringes on both the left and right shouted at Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle

Protesters from fringes on both the left and right shouted at Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle

The source close to Trump Jr. said Monday that he and Guilfoyle spoke longer than the hour they had promised to stay on stage, and disputed the contention that the far-right protesters drove them out.

The chaos underscored a vicious civil war inside the Republican Party’s most active and vocal youth culture – between the Trump-friendly Turning Point USA and a breakoff ‘America First’ movement led by firebrand white nationalist YouTube host Nicholas Fuentes.

Fuentes, 21, calls himself an ‘American nationalist.’ He and his followers profess to be supporters of President Donald Trump, but America’s Republican mainstream has shunned them for gleefully doubting that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in a World War II Holocaust.

Comparing ovens in Nazi death camps to ovens a baker would use to make cookies, Fuentes said during an October 30 YouTube broadcast that it would take too long to ‘bake’ that number of Jews. 

‘How long does it take Cookie Monster to make 6 million batches of cookies?’ he joked. ‘I don’t know – it certainly would be five years, right? The math doesn’t seem to add up there.’

Claiming that overhead photos of Nazi death camps don’t show a sufficient number of smokestacks, Fuentes claimed that ‘if you look at the soil texture, it’s really not deep enough for mass cookie-storage underground.’

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Trump Jr.'s longtime girlfriend, mocked the white nationalist fringe group in the UCLE crowd on Sunday, saying they probably had to resort to online dating

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Trump Jr.’s longtime girlfriend, mocked the white nationalist fringe group in the UCLE crowd on Sunday, saying they probably had to resort to online dating

‘Six million cookies? Uh-uh. I don’t buy it,’ he said, later claiming that the analogy was ‘all irony. I love and respect everyone.’

Neither Trump Jr. nor his spokesman, nor Guilfoyle, responded to requests for comment early on Monday. 

But the president’s son said Sunday on stage that ‘the reason oftentimes it doesn’t make sense to do the Q&A is not because we’re not willing to talk about the questions. Because we do. No, it’s because people hijack it with nonsense looking to go for some sort of sound bite.’

‘You have people spreading nonsense, spreading hate, trying to take over the room,’ he said. 

The source close to the president’s eldest son said he was against ‘giving a platform to a bunch of neo-Nazis’ and ‘doesn’t want people like that to be Trump supporters.’

A strong police presence accompanied the pair, according to CBS-TV2 in Los Angeles. 

Fuentes has bitterly sniped at Turning Point for more than a year, reacting to efforts by the group and its founder Charlie Kirk to distance themselves from white nationalists – including some who participated in a 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ event that left a woman dead in Charlottesville, Virginia.

According to The Boston Globe, Fuentes was among them. 

Nick Fuentes, a self-described Donald Trump supporter who is considered part of America's fringe white nationalist movement, compared Jews incinerated during the Nazi Holocaust to 'cookies' last month, doubting publicly that 6 million of them were slaughtered during a World War II genocide

Nick Fuentes, a self-described Donald Trump supporter who is considered part of America’s fringe white nationalist movement, compared Jews incinerated during the Nazi Holocaust to ‘cookies’ last month, doubting publicly that 6 million of them were slaughtered during a World War II genocide

The Boston Globe has reported that Fuentes participated in the 2017 'Unite the Right' white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent and left a counterprotester dead

The Boston Globe has reported that Fuentes participated in the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent and left a counterprotester dead

He appeared to take a victory lap after Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle walked out, sharing dozens of gleeful tweets mocking Turning Point.  

‘Our problem is not with [Trump Jr.] who is a patriot – We are supporters of his father!’ he tweeted. ‘Our problem is with Charlie Kirk’s TPUSA organization that SHUTS DOWN and SMEARS socially conservative Christians and supporters of President Trump’s agenda. We are AMERICA FIRST!’

Fuentes, whose splinter following has dogged Kirk and Turning Point on college campuses all year, vented last week on YouTube that as the group hosts Trump Jr.’s book tour events, it is ‘literally campaigning for Trump, and they have to discriminate against his voters.’

‘People do not go to a “free speech” thing and get dragged to the back of the line, kicked out, because they don’t fit the profile of what a questioner is supposed to look like,’ he said.

One central theme in Trump Jr.’s book is the claim that liberal partisans are increasingly unwilling to debate ideas but instead often prefer to silence their critics. 



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Still teaching at 95, Jimmy Carter draws devotees to church…


PLAINS, Ga. (AP) — The pilgrims arrive early and from all over, gathering hours before daybreak in an old pecan grove that surrounds a country church. They come, they say, for a dose of simple decency and devotion wrapped up in a Bible lesson.

The teacher is the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.

Nearly four decades after he left office and despite a body that’s failing after 95 years, the nation’s oldest-ever ex-president still teaches Sunday school roughly twice a month at Maranatha Baptist Church in his tiny hometown of Plains in southwest Georgia. His message is unfailingly about Jesus, not himself.

The church has only 30 or so members, but as many as 450 people attend any week Carter teaches. About 200 people fill the sanctuary, with pale-green walls and stained glass windows, and others gather in side rooms where the lesson is shown on TVs.

It’s nearly impossible to separate even an ex-president from politics, and some come because they’re Democrats who recall voting for Carter when he was elected in 1976. Almost uniformly, they’re dismayed by the tone of President Donald Trump and his Republican administration.

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But Trump has only been in office since 2017 and Carter has been drawing crowds for years. Those who attended Carter’s most recent lesson on Nov. 3 said they just wanted to be in the presence of someone who seems kind, humble and godly despite having been a world leader.

“He’s a role model and an inspiration for both of us both in public service and in faith,” said visitor Doug Kluth. He and his wife Ramona drove 2,400 miles (3,862 kilometers) round trip from their home in Columbus, Nebraska, to see Carter in person.

John and Sarah Dyer packed their four daughters, ages 2 through 12, into their Honda Pilot for the 1,700-mile (2,736-kilometer) round trip to Plains from suburban Chicago.

“To see a man who was once on top of the world choose to spend his twilight years lifting the world higher was inspirational to my family and I,” John Dyer wrote to the church’s pastor in a letter shared with The Associated Press.

Carter faced mockery for his Southern Baptist faith in 1976 when he said in a Playboy magazine interview that he was guilty of adultery in his heart because he lusted after women. The soul-baring sentiment paralleled Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, but it came across as odd and narrow-minded to many.

These days, with a twice-divorced president who curses in public and once said he’d never asked God for forgiveness, Carter’s approach to life — with his wife of 73 years, Rosalynn, by his side — seems especially appealing to fans.

They say they admire Carter’s work to eradicate disease and monitor elections worldwide; the time he has spent helping build homes as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity; and his advocacy for food programs and rural health care in his home county. Many were touched by photos of a bruised-but-smiling Carter performing volunteer work after he fell and hit his head in October.

So they flock to Plains any week Maranatha Baptist posts on its website or Facebook page that Carter plans to teach.

Fray and Susan Carter of Russellville, Alabama, slept overnight in their car in the church parking lot to get a front-row view as Carter taught on his first Sunday back after falling and breaking his pelvis in October.

As recently as last year Carter would stand during his 45-minute lesson, but he now uses an electric lift chair at the front of the sanctuary as a concession to age. He breaks into that familiar smile when he raises the seat so he can see the crowd over a wooden lectern. A cross made by Carter, a longtime woodworker, adorns the choir loft. He also made the wooden offering plates, which bear his initials on the bottom.

Carter’s lesson this day was on his belief in life after death. He ended the same way he always does, by challenging class members to do one nice thing for somebody over the next month.

“That’s what I think would make America a better country. It would make you a better person, right? And a better Christian,” Carter said. “Well, that’s the essence of my Sunday school lesson. Not anything fancy to it. Just some personal things to think about.”

Visitors that day included people from multiple U.S. states plus Venezuela and Ecuador. Rarely a week goes by without someone from overseas in the crowd, said the Rev. Tony Lowden, Carter’s pastor.

The church was formed in 1977 from a split when another church refused to accept blacks as members. Lowden was hired in March as Maranatha’s first black pastor. On any given Sunday, Lowden said, the congregation is a “mix of everything.”

“It’s a melting pot of people who are looking for faith and looking for something that they can believe in,” Lowden said. After a cancer diagnosis in 2015 and three falls this year, it’s unclear how much longer Carter can continue to teach, but Lowden said he’s welcome as long as he’s able.

The crowd on the first Sunday in November included Chet Mulholland, an evangelical Christian from Wisconsin, and Joey and Sabrina Fretwell, faithful churchgoers from conservative Mississippi in the heart of the Deep South. The couple’s daughter attended a Trump rally in Tupelo, Mississippi, just two days before they drove to Plains to see Carter.

Sabrina Fretwell, 46, doesn’t really remember Carter’s presidency, but she recalls hours spent listening to her grandparents talk about Carter when she was a girl. That’s one reason she wanted to see the former president, she said, to somehow honor that time.

“I remember that warm feeling of sitting and listening to their conversations, and not being old enough to grab what they were talking about but knowing it was still important to them and knowing they admired the things he was doing,” she said.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.



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The tiger next door: America's backyard big cats…


It was the sort of headline impossible to scroll past: “Pot Smokers Find Caged Tiger in Abandoned Houston House, Weren’t Hallucinating: Police.” Last February, a group of people had snuck into a deserted house in Texas’s largest city to smoke marijuana when they stumbled upon a full-grown tiger in a cage – a cage secured by just a nylon strap and a screwdriver. Sergeant Jason Alderete of Houston Police Department’s animal cruelty unit, later told a local TV station: “It wasn’t the effects of the drugs. There was an actual tiger!” The animal was given a name, Loki, and sent to an animal sanctuary in the country, run by the Humane Society of the United States. You’d be forgiven for thinking Loki’s experience was an isolated incident – it isn’t.

An oft-quoted statistic is that there are more tigers in American back yards than there are left in the wild. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there are between 3,200 and 3,500 tigers remaining in the wild globally. By some estimates there are 5,000 in captivity in the US, though there might be more. The truth is we have little idea how many there are in American ranches, unlicensed zoos, apartments, truck stops and private breeding facilities, due to a mishmash of state, federal and county laws governing their ownership.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 6% of America’s captive tiger population lives in zoos and facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums; the rest are in private hands. Some are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and others by state laws, but some are not regulated at all. “In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter,” says the WWF.

Tiger in the tank: Loki, who was rescued from a cage in a garage in Houston.



Tiger in the tank: Loki, who was rescued from a cage in a garage in Houston. Photograph: Godofredo A Vasquez/AP

In Texas, which lets each of its 254 counties regulate the ownership of dangerous wild animals, it’s hard to accurately gauge how many there are. In a state that prides itself on promoting individual freedoms, like openly carrying AR-15 semi-automatic rifles or bringing concealed handguns on to university campuses, it’s perhaps not surprising that owning a tiger is considered (by some) to be a God-given right.

The deplorable conditions in which Loki was found illustrate the fact that these “rights” can come at a cost. He was discovered in a 5ft x 3ft cage in the dark garage of the abandoned home. The cage’s floor was made of plywood. It was three months before police arrested his owner, a 24-year-old woman named Brittany Garza, who was taken into custody and charged with animal cruelty. She responded that she was in the process of relocating and had not abandoned the animal, as it had food and water.

Katie Jarl, the Humane Society’s southwest regional director, says there have been numerous similar incidents. In 2016, police in Conroe, a town north of Houston, received reports of a tiger roaming a residential neighbourhood after it escaped from someone’s back yard. “No one knew about them,” she says. “They were completely off the map.”

In 2009, a 330lb tiger escaped from its enclosure in Ingram, Texas, and was found in a 79-year-old woman’s back yard. In 2007, a one-year-old tiger “wearing a makeshift lead” was found shot dead in a wooded area off the motorway in Dallas. In 2003, in another Dallas suburb, a motorist spotted a four-month-old tiger roaming the side of the road. In 2001, a three-year-old boy was killed by one of his relative’s three pet tigers in Lee County, Texas. And in 2000, animal control officers near Houston spent three hours searching for a tiger that had escaped from a garden cage while its owners were out of town. That same year, in Channelview, Texas, a three-year-old boy had his arm ripped off by his uncle’s 400lb pet.

As for Loki, Jarl says a law-enforcement source of hers outside the city had got in touch to say the authorities had known about Loki’s owner for a long time. “She had been raising cubs in her home for years,” Jarl says, “in a county where there were no restrictions.”

This year, two state legislators filed bills aimed at prohibiting the private ownership of “dangerous wild animals”. But this is Texas, where the private ownership of pretty much everything is sacrosanct, and neither bill became law. There was “passionate testimony” on both sides of the debate, says the assistant to one of the legislators involved.

According to one conservation charity, four states (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin) do not regulate the private ownership of exotic pets at all. Brittany Peet, director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), says there are a “patchwork of laws” regulating the possession of big cats. “And you can usually get around those laws by applying for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) exhibitor’s licence,” she says. “It’s as simple as filling out an application and writing a cheque for $100. The regulations are very minimal – as long as you have a cage where the animal can fully stand up and turn around you shouldn’t have a problem getting a licence.

“Everyone should be terrified and shocked by this,” Peet adds. “These animals are extremely complex and powerful and can kill a human being with a swipe of their paw. People keeping tigers in back yards are not experts. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re not providing these animals with enrichment and stimulation that they need in order to live relatively normal lives in captivity.”

Bill Rathburn disagrees. He believes he provided the seven tigers that once lived on his private, 50-acre ranch 80 miles east of Dallas, with more than enough enrichment and stimulation. For more than two decades, Rathburn and his now ex-wife Lou raised the animals from cubs. For the Rathburns, the tigers were a surrogate family.

Big pussycat: Bill Rathburn with Raja. ‘He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died’.



Big pussycat: Bill Rathburn with Raja. ‘He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Rathburn

I interview Rathburn over the phone and later he sends me a photo of himself and Raja, the first tiger he and his wife bought. The pair are nose to nose inside its cage. “That was the relationship I had with him,” he says. “I’m not a reckless person and wouldn’t have gone into the cage with him if I hadn’t raised him, or knew I’d be safe doing it. He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died.”

Not everyone in the Rathburns’ neighbourhood shared their enthusiasm. “Tiger sanctuary has residents growling,” read one local headline.

Rathburn is a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and chief of police of the Dallas Police Department. In 1996 he was director of security for the summer Olympic Games, in Atlanta. It was while he was there that Lou bought their first tiger. Rathburn admits to feeling “kind of overwhelmed” initially, thinking about all the work and expense that would inevitably go into raising it. But when he came home he says he “immediately fell in love”.

The following year the couple bought two more tiger cubs “from a guy who had tigers in the back yard of his house in Houston”. Rathburn and his wife raised the cubs in their house. They installed a heavy mesh screen door “so they couldn’t get out of the pantry and wander round the house at night”. Outside, they constructed a cage complex. “If you saw it,” he says, “you’d realise it was a pretty good life for a tiger: a 10,000sqft play area with grass, trees and bushes, so they could run, play, hide, and chew on grass to help their digestive system.”

Raja lived to be 21. “He was unsteady on his feet towards the end,” Rathburn says. “I knew it was time to put him down. The vet came round and agreed. I was crying like a baby. It broke my heart.” Their second animal developed a tumour on her spine. When she died, Lou insisted on having her skin made into a rug. “And after we got divorced I ended up with the rug,” Rathburn says. “I have it over a chest in my bedroom, and it’s wonderful way to remember her. I talk to her once in a while.”

Eventually, he says, a neighbour complained to county officials about what they described as a growing tiger problem next door. “He got county officials upset, and two votes can sway an election in a rural area. So the county commissioners weren’t willing to extend my permit.”

Rathburn believes in regulation. “There should be adequate confinement areas, [and regulation] protecting animals and protecting people who might be injured by them.” But, he says, he stands by the rights of individuals to own big cats.

While this might sound incredible to someone in the UK, Rathburn’s sense of entitlement – this rugged individualism that says the government shouldn’t interfere with an individual’s right to own pretty much whatever they want – runs deep in America.

Marcus Cook has owned and worked with big cats since the early 1990s. Back then he was working for a zoo in south Texas, and when the owners retired and closed their business Cook adopted a couple of black leopards. “Anyone who says they can tame one is unrealistic,” he tells me by phone one morning from his home in Kaufman, Texas. “But they’re handleable.”

Cook says he’s owned everything “from small cats, like cougars, to lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. The big guys.” He says his own firm, Zoocats, began as a hobby in 1995 and grew from there. He began to take the animals on the road around the US – to schools and fairs and temporary exhibits. Cook says it was all about education – “creating an entertaining wow factor” – but his critics say he was ruthlessly exploiting the animals for gain. He has been accused of numerous animal welfare violations, subjected to various complaints, and issued citations over the years.

Loki, the tiger rescued from the Houston garage, was taken to a vast ranch in Murchison, Texas, run by the Humane Society. Murchison, population 594, is a rural farming community 70 miles southeast of Dallas. The ranch is situated discreetly, a few miles outside town, next to a remote country lane. You can see horses and cattle grazing in fields next to the road, but none of the exotic animals that also live here.

Noelle Almrud, ranch director, meets me at the main office and we climb into a truck to drive to the enclosures at the back of the ranch that house its two tigers. It’s not unlike a wildlife park, although there are no gawking tourists here and the enclosures are bigger. Loki lives in a quarter-acre fenced area, but he rotates each week from this into a three-acre enclosure next door. Both have an abundance of willows and oaks to provide shade.

As we walk towards the fence, Loki gallops over and makes a breathy snort that Almrud says is known as “chuffing” and signals affection. He rubs himself against the wire enclosure before running back to his water trough and jumping in. “He’s acclimated really well,” she tells me. “We feed him 8lb of food a day – humanely raised beef, turkey, large rats, or rabbits and supplements – six days a week, then he has a day of fasting, as he would in the wild.”

Two years ago, Almrud helped found the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, a network of reputable big cat sanctuaries whose mission was to strengthen the regulation of big cats in the US and get conservation facilities to work together to place rescue animals. But they face a big challenge, she explains: “Roadside zoos need shutting down, but where do you put all the animals? You couldn’t re-house all the tigers currently in roadside zoos in America. We need more money and more facilities. In a perfect world,” she says, “I’d like to be put out of business.”

Judging by the Texan appetite for big cats, that won’t be happening anytime soon.



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