Senators reach bipartisan deal on healthcare subsidies blocked by Trump

Republicans and Democrats in the health committee of the US Senate appear to have reached an agreement on a plan to extend federal payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump had blocked. Trump said he supported the plan.

The plan agreed to by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington) is intended to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act.

“This takes care of the next two years,” Senator Alexander told the New York Times. “After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare.”

Alexander and Murray had been working for weeks on healthcare legislation separate from efforts by GOP leaders to dismantle the ACA, according to AP.

As one part of the deal, in addition to the the subsidies to health insurance marketing being funded for two years, there would be lower out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers.

At a joint press conference by Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras on Tuesday afternoon, the president said he knew about the Alexander-Murray deal.

“It is a short-term deal, a solution for a year or two that will get us over this hump, so we don’t have this dangerous period,” Trump said.

The president endorsed the plan by Senators Graham and Cassidy, which would provide block grants to states to provide their own health insurance programs, as a better long-term solution.

He also called Obamacare “everything but dead,” apparently unaware that the expression meant that it’s alive and well.

Under the 2010 healthcare overhaul, the government had to pay insurers for reducing out-of-pocket expenses for lower-earning customers. The so-called cost sharing reductions cost around $ 7 billion this year and lower expenses like co-payments and deductibles for more than 6 million people.

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US President Donald Trump (R), Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (L). © Jonathan Ernst

Although a federal judge ruled that Congress hadn’t legally appropriated the payments, the Obama administration continued to make them. Trump kept up the payments for almost nine months, until he ordered them discontinued last week.

Trump halted the insurers’ payments last week but said he wanted a bipartisan deal to continue them temporarily. Trump and many Republicans consider the payments to insurers “bailout to carriers.” Insurers have warned that premiums will rise unless the payments were restored.

In exchange for the congressional deal, Republicans want Congress to give states flexibility to avoid some coverage requirements under President Obama’s flagship healthcare law.

Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health Committee told reporters the next step will to win enough support from colleagues to put the proposal to a vote.

Previous efforts by Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare have repeatedly failed, with Democrats united in opposing any such proposal and several dissenting Republicans joining them.

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Google enhances security for govt officials, political activists & journalists

The giant search engine has introduced a set of its “strongest defense” features, designed to protect the Google accounts of users most vulnerable to hacking attacks, such as journalists, business leaders and political campaign teams.

On Tuesday, Google Inc. announced the launch of the “Advanced Protection Program,” tailored specifically for users “at particularly high risk of targeted online attacks,” who are “willing to trade a bit of convenience for more protection.”

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© Pawel Kopczynski

These include political campaign staffers, journalists seeking anonymity for their sources, or people in abusive relationships seeking safety.

Those who opt for the advanced protection will have to use not only a password to sign in, but also a physical “security key.” Said to be “the best protection against phishing,” a small USB device for a computer or a Bluetooth dongle for a mobile device will replace SMS codes or the Google Authenticator app.

In addition, the new program limits third-party apps from accessing Google data on Gmail or Drive. Another tool sees additional verification steps, which will take days to recover access to a user’s account, to prevent hackers pretending they’ve been locked out.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post claimed that “Russian operatives” had exploited the tech giant’s platforms to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. The claim has not been confirmed by the tech firm, which has said it’s looking into the issue.

While the US probe into the Kremlin’s suspected meddling in the presidential election has dragged on for almost a year, Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations it hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party staff, including the Gmail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again said on Tuesday that not a single piece of factual evidence has been leaked to the media during this period, and he described the claims as part of US political infighting.

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Not Dali’s daughter: Fortune teller claiming heritage ordered to pay for surrealist’s exhumation

A Spanish woman, who won a lawsuit to exhume the corpse of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali to prove she was his only living child, has now been ordered to pay for the procedure that refuted her claim.

A court in Madrid ended a paternity legal action, brought by Pilar Abel Martínez, who claimed her mother had a secret affair with the famous painter, according to AFP, citing the ruling from October 13 published Monday. The 61-year-old Tarot card reader was also ordered to cover the cost of the analysis, which included exhuming Dali’s body for DNA tests.

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© Sergei Karpukhin

Test results in two laboratories “[excluded] Salvador Dali as the biological father of Maria Pilar Abel Martinez” in September. However, for this test to take place a 1.5-ton tombstone had first to be lifted out of the way to gain access to the coffin. The eccentric painter’s hair, teeth, nail and two long bone samples were taken in July.

So far, the exact cost of the procedure hasn’t been disclosed as it’s still being evaluated, according to the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation that oversees the artist’s estate. The amount may be around 7,000 euros, according to the woman’s lawyer, Enrique Blanquez, El Pais reports

“I have free justice, so what do you want me to pay?” Abel said, expressing her disappointment over the “lies” she heard inside the courtroom.

The woman is poised to appeal the decision, as she called the DNA tests into question. “After what I’ve seen today, I can believe anything,” the psychic said.

Her first paternity claim dates back to 2015, when she started a legal action against the Spanish government and the Dali foundation, which opposed the order on Dali’s exhumation as “totally inadequate and disproportionate.”

If Abel had been proved Dali’s daughter, she could have inherited 25 percent of the estate the painter left to the state.

READ MORE: ‘Holy Grail of art rediscoveries’: Da Vinci masterpiece expected to fetch $ 100mn at auction

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Undercover video shows NYT editor revealing bias against ‘insanely crazy’ Trump

The New York Times has reportedly fired an editor featured in a Project Veritas undercover video. A new video in the series shows another editor admitting to media bias and laying out her views on President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Project Veritas president O’Keefe announced on Tuesday that Audience Editor Nick Dudich was fired. Dudich was the subject of two Veritas videos published last week.

A new undercover video, published earlier in the day, shows Homepage Editor Desiree Shoe trash-talking Trump and Pence to two undercover reporters in what appears to be a bar.

One of them tells Shoe that on the NYT website during the election, “the whole page is Trump.”

“Yeah, part of it was because it was sensational,” Shoe said. “I think one of the things that maybe journalists were thinking about is like, if we write about him, and how insanely crazy he is and how ludicrous his politics are, then maybe people will read it and be like, oh wow, we shouldn’t vote for him.”

Project Veritas, a conservative group specializing in what it says are undercover sting videos, has released a number of videos on US media outlets in a series dubbed “American Pravda.” The group has so far targeted CNN and the New York Times

READ MORE: NYT & YouTube collusion spawns fake news ‘bastard child’ – Project Veritas to RT

Veritas says Shoe’s previous statement is “a scary revelation,” and quotes from the newspaper’s ethics handbook about how staff members “must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality.”

“Our main stories are supposed to be objective,” Shoe says at a later point. “It’s very difficult in this day and age to do that.”

Asked why, Shoe brings up the August events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Because when you have something like the Charlottesville story, it’s hard to portray, for instance, the president, in an unbiased light when the words that are coming out of his mouth are apologetic towards white supremacists, which is what they were.”

READ MORE: UN criticizes Trump for ‘failure’ to unequivocally condemn racist speech

“I feel like Trump is just sort of an idiot in so many ways, or just an oblivious idiot,” Shoe says. “If you impeach him, then Pence becomes president. Mike Pence, who is f**king horrible, I think may be possibly worse than Trump.”

“I’m speaking off the record,” she adds.

Asked to elaborate on her thoughts about Pence, Shoe says: “He’s extremely, extremely religious. Extremely religious. He at one point backed a bill that hinted at conversion therapy for gay people, which is like electrocution and stuff like that.”  

READ MORE: Kaine v Pence: Inspecting the 2016 vice president picks, their records

Shoe also spoke of the “Trump bump” where media outlets have seen an increase in subscriptions or viewers following the election. For the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, “who have paywalls up, the main objective is to grab subscribers, any way you can.”

“The last couple of years it’s changed for the bad,” Shoe admitted, referring to the profitability of media outlets depending on clicks and subscribers.

“A business model in this time is built on what the readers want,” Shoe said. “You have to be respectful of the reader’s desires, what interests readers.”

“People are interested in politics right now, and a lot of the readers are liberal, so I think what they want to know about it Trump so when the next go-around happens, they feel they’re sufficiently informed to either vote on way or the other.”

As with other Project Veritas videos, its targets are secretly filmed with the hope of getting scandalous responses. The group don’t show unedited versions of the videos, or provide context as to how they tricked their targets into talking.

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Investigation launched into Air Berlin pilot’s ‘farewell flyover’ (VIDEO)

An Air Berlin flight from Miami to Dusseldorf, with 200 passengers on board, made a dramatic flypast over the terminal at its destination to mark the airline’s final flight. Now, an investigation has been launched into whether the pilot endangered any lives.

The German Aviation Authority (LBA) has begun an investigation into the incident, which was captured on camera and shared extensively online. “Air Berlin fully supports the LBA in its work,” the company said, as cited by The Local.

The financially troubled company allegedly requested permission to conduct the flypast in case of an aborted landing at the airport, reports The Local. The plane eventually landed safely and no official complaints have so far been lodged.

READ MORE: Massive job losses at bankrupt Air Berlin as carrier to end flights this month

“That was a go-around maneuver. The Federal Aviation Office is examining the incident,” a spokesman for Air Berlin said Tuesday, as cited by Reuters.

The spokesperson did not provide any further details, apart from confirming that the flypast was a preplanned “lap of honor.”

“We are awaiting the results of an internal investigation at Air Berlin,” a spokesperson for the LBA said. Go-around maneuvers are frequent occurrences in the aviation industry, as adverse weather conditions often force pilots to postpone landings.

German paper Tagesspiegel reports that the airport fire brigade conducted its own farewell ceremony, spraying the Airbus A330 with fire hoses as it was taxiing to the gate after its final voyage.

Air Berlin declared bankruptcy on August 15 and was kept flying by a government loan until a buyer could be found. A €210 million ($ 247 million) bid by Lufthansa last week was accepted.

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Astronomy group denies mysterious fireball was meteor as stargazers left baffled (VIDEOS)

A large fireball blazing across Dubai’s night sky left onlookers stunned, with many speculating it was a meteor.

Social media users took to Twitter to share images and videos of the blazing object, which puzzled many in the almost-80 seconds it set the sky alight.  

With stargazers perplexed at the sight, the Dubai Media Office was on hand to allay any fears that the end of the world was nigh, stating it was a meteor.

This was later refuted, however, by the Dubai Astronomy Group, which confirmed that it was “falling space debris of the [Russian] Progress module which is used to supply ISS [International Space Station] regularly.”

“Yesterday at around 19:30 UAE time, many people witnessed and captured images of falling space debris of the Progress module,” the group said.

“The space craft disintegrated in the upper atmosphere and broke up into smaller chunks and burned like fireworks,” it added.

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‘Allah’ NOT embroidered in Viking burial clothing – Islamic Art professor

Last week Swedish researchers made a startling claim they discovered the word ‘Allah’ embroidered into ancient Viking burial clothing. These findings have now been questioned by experts claiming the inscription “makes no sense in Arabic.”

Annika Larsson’s findings, which concluded that the inscriptions were evidence that Viking “burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in Paradise after death,” were widely reported last week as a ‘historic first’.

READ MORE: Viking burials inspired by Islam, archaeologist reveals

Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas, Stephennie Mulder, however, claims there is a “serious problem of dating.”

Mulder explains that the Kufic script didn’t exist at the time of the Vikings and that even if it did, the inscription still doesn’t mean anything in Arabic.

Mulder adds that Larsson’s claim is “based on extrapolation, not evidence,” citing a textile specialist, Carolyn Priest-Dorman, who writes that the interpretation is based on “extensions of pattern, not an existing pattern.”

Priest-Dorman and Mulder’s analysis details how the texts say ‘Allah’ only if you presume that the embroidered fabric was originally twice as wide as it is now and that the pattern was replicated in specific ways, leading Mulder to say that “Larsson’s extensions are entirely conjectural.”

Speaking to RT.com, Annika Larsson, a researcher in textile archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Sweden’s Uppsala University, contested her critics’ claims, saying that there is a “misunderstanding” from Mulder about the images.

“The scripts on the ribbons are like secret messages. First I thought they were copied by someone who didn’t understand the message. But the patterns in the ribbons are like a puzzle or a rebus to read,” she said.

“I have spoken to Muslims that tell me that even today sometimes you don’t want to say/write/depict the Gods name clearly, so then you can make it like a puzzle, and even mirror it. I think that is what they have done on these ribbons.

“The project is represented in an Exhibition at Enköpings Museum not far from Stockholm, where we have reconstructed two ribbons.

“In this specific case we see a puzzle of two patterns – then mirrored. It is like a hidden or secret message, that is still sometimes used in the Muslim tradition when writing the name of God,” she added.

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Two Chinese citizens charged over fentanyl trafficking

The US Justice Department announced they’ve indicted two Chinese drug traffickers who have been using the internet to sell and distribute the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, and its analogues to dealers and customers in the US.

The two men, identified as Jian Zhang and Xiaobing Yan, were indicted by grand juries in the Southern District of Mississippi and the District of North Dakota for “separate conspiracies to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into the United States.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication, 50 time more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It has been linked to a rash of overdose deaths across the US.

“Zhang and Yan are the first Chinese nationals designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said on Tuesday. “The defendants alleged shipped massive quantities of deadly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to communities in the United States…the chemicals allegedly killed and injured people…and surely caused misery to many thousands of people.”

Yan, 40, was identified during a traffic stop in Mississippi in 2013, which unearthed a domestic drug ring. Yan was found to operate two chemical plants in China that were capable of producing fentanyl and fentanyl analogues by the ton. Using different names and company identities, Yan operated websites advertising and selling fentanyl over a period of six years, selling directly to US customers in multiple US cities.

“Federal agents identified more than 100 distributors of the synthetic opioids involved with Yan’s manufacturing and distribution networks,” said the Justice Department.

In a sealed indictment issued on September 7, Yan was charged with two counts of conspiracy to manufacture and distribution multiple controlled substances including fentanyl, and seven counts of manufacturing and distributing drugs in specific instances. His indictment was made public on Tuesday.

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© 007 David Parry / Global Look Press

Zhang, 38, was identified when law enforcement were investigating the fentanyl overdose death an 18-year-old. Police were able to trace the drugs to a Grand Forks, North Dakota resident who had been using an encrypted website and the crypto-currency Bitcoin to buy fentanyl, heroin and other drugs over the internet for more than a year.

Agents and prosecutors traced the the drugs to Oregon, Canada and eventually China. Zhang manufactured fentanyl in at least four labs and sold the drug to US customers over the internet, distributing the drugs through the mail and international parcel delivery services.

“Agents determined Zhang has sent many thousands of these packages since January 2013,” the DOJ said.

“These cases reflect a new and disturbing facet of the opioid crisis in America. More and more of our citizens are being killed by fentanyl… a few grains of fentanyl can be a lethal dose,” Rosenstein said.

A sealed indictment against Zhang and eight others ‒ five Canadian citizens and two residents of Florida ‒ was issued in North Dakota on September 20, 2017. Charges against them include conspiracy to distribute fentanyl in at least 11 states, conspiracy to import drugs, money laundering, and operating a criminal enterprise. Zhang was also charged with the deaths of four people in North Carolina, New Jersey, North Dakota and Oregon, and serious bodily injuries related to five others.

If convicted, Yan faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $ 1 million fine and three years of supervised release. Zhang faces up to life in prison, and a $ 12.5 million fine.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 20,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 2016, with the number growing at an exponential rate.

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Artillery, clashes & tents: Bizarre scenes in Kiev amid mass protest outside Ukrainian parliament

Baffling scenes played out in central Kiev on Tuesday, with artillery rounds going off as several thousand protesters threatened the government with a new Maidan-style protest, erecting multiple tents, setting up cordons and facing off with riot police.

A battery of howitzers dispatched not far from the site of the planned anti-government protest outside the Verkhovna Rada, or parliament, building was first reported on social media. A correspondent for Ukrainian Review News said in a Facebook post that “artillery guns” were spotted in the heart of Kiev.

It soon turned out that the placement of weapons might not be related to the demonstration, which was calling for parliamentary immunity to be revoked and for reforms to the electoral system. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office said that instead the artillery was there to honor visiting Maltese President Coleiro Preca. The two events were a “stupid coincidence,” she said.

The authorities maintained protocol and fired off a 21-gun salute, bewildering those who hadn’t heard the news. A YouTube video captured the sound of howitzers firing not far from the crowd as people looked confused and somewhat disconcerted with the salute.

Police briefly clashed with protesters as they broke through metal fences later Tuesday, and the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said that one policeman was injured in the scuffles. One demonstrator was allegedly beaten and then taken to the hospital. Protesters then erected several tents outside administrative buildings.

The rally, which began as a parliament session was taking place in the Verkhovna Rada, was called by Mikhail Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, who has been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship but made his way across the Polish-Ukrainian border with the help of a crowd of supporters, including some opposition figures.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian MPs were debating political reforms, including the cancellation of immunity for parliamentary deputies. The draft bill was introduced to the parliament by President Petro Poroshenko on Monday.

Poroshenko was one of the primary targets of the protest, with one large placard showing an image of the Ukrainian president behind bars. Saakashvili, who previously was Poroshenko’s friend and ally but is now engaged in a bitter feud with the oligarch-turned-president, is calling for Poroshenko’s impeachment.

Tuesday’s rally saw 6,000 people joining anti-government protests in Kiev, with around 4,500 people rallying outside the parliament building and some 1,500 protesters near the National bank of Ukraine, according to national police chief Andrey Krischenko.

While various political movements called on people to join Monday’s protests, which were taking place not only in Kiev but also in other cities across Ukraine, not all the opposition forces supported Saakashvili’s protest on Tuesday. Far-right political party the National Corps admitted “the possibility of joint actions for the sake of achieving the goal,” but stressed that it disowned the former Georgian president’s position.

Saakashvili, who was one of the political figures supporting the 2014 coup on Kiev’s Maidan, or Independence Square, earlier said that his dream was “to change [the authorities] in Kiev” and called for the impeachment of President Poroshenko. He repeated those calls in front of his supporters during Tuesday’s protest, saying that while Poroshenko is in power there will be no progress on reducing poverty and in the fight against corruption, Ukrainian media reported, citing Saakashvili.

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