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Within the pages of my journal you will find mostly rants and commentary on topics of concern to me. Currently, those would include the illegal occupation of Iraq, human rights, the threat of theocracy, and the U. S. Presidency of Barack Obama.

If these things interest you as well, read on. If you wish to engage in attack debate, simply move on. I won't respond to you. If you are interested in honest debate, and have an open mind, then I welcome you.

Oh, and one more thing. I believe Bush 43 was the worst president ever to hold that office in the history of the United States. I am unashamed of that opinion.

If your actions harm no one, then they are ethical. The reverse is not necessarily true.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood

Older Viewing 0 - 20  
Randy K. Milholland

"I've accepted that I'm not going to die of natural causes, [but] getting killed 'cuz you're naturally a dick seems like natural causes to me."

Kin Hubbard

"There's no secret about success. Did you ever know a successful man who didn't tell you about it?"

Walter Bagehot

"The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything."

Herb Caen

"I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there."

Giuliani to Join Trump Legal Team in Facing Mueller

WASHINGTON  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is joining the legal team defending President Trump in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, a Trump attorney said Thursday.

With the addition of Giuliani, Trump gains an experienced litigator and former U.S. attorney in Manhattan. Trump is looking to bring his involvement with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to a close, and is considering whether to sit for questioning by Mueller’s team.

Giuliani also fills the void left by attorney John Dowd, who resigned from the legal team last month.

Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow told The Associated Press that Giuliani will be focusing on the Mueller investigation  not the legal matters raised by the ongoing investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen. That probe is being led by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Cohen’s office, home and hotel room were raided last week by the FBI, provoking a backlash from Trump in which he publicly weighed whether to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also intensified his public attacks on the Mueller investigation, calling it “an attack on our country.”

Trump’s legal team has been told by Mueller that the president is a subject of the investigation, not a target, though that designation can change at any time. In a statement announcing Giuliani’s hire, Trump expressed his wish that the investigation wrap up soon.

“Rudy is great,” Trump said. “He has been my friend for a long time and wants to get this matter quickly resolved for the good of the country.”

Giuliani will be joining Sekulow on Trump’s personal legal team but will be working closely with White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who has also been handling the administration’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation.

“It is an honor to be a part of such an important legal team, and I look forward to not only working with the President but with Jay, Ty and their colleagues,” Giuliani said in a statement.

In addition to Giuliani, two other former federal prosecutors  Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin  will be joining Trump’s legal team.


Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Lance Armstrong to Pay $5M to U.S. to Settle Lawsuit

AUSTIN, Texas  Lance Armstrong reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government in a whistleblower lawsuit that could have sought $100 million in damages from the cyclist who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France victories after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his career.

The deal announced Thursday came as the two sides prepared for a trial that was scheduled to start May 7 in Washington. Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis filed the original lawsuit in 2010 and is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement along with attorney fees paid by Armstrong.

Seeking millions it spent sponsoring Armstrong’s powerhouse teams, the government joined the lawsuit against Armstrong in 2013 after his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey to using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and methods. Armstrong had already retired, but the confession shattered the legacy of one of the most popular sports figures in the world.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he’s happy to have “made peace with the Postal Service.”

“While I believe that their lawsuit against me was meritless and unfair, and while I am spending a lot of money to resolve it, I have since 2013 tried to take full responsibility for my mistakes and inappropriate conduct, and make amends wherever possible,” he said. “I rode my heart out for the Postal cycling team, and was always especially proud to wear the red, white and blue eagle on my chest when competing in the Tour de France. Those memories are very real and mean a lot to me.”

The settlement clears the 46-year-old Armstrong of the most damaging legal issues still facing the cyclist since his downfall. He had already taken huge hits financially, losing all his major sponsors and being forced to pay more than $20 million in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits. The government’s lawsuit would have been the biggest by far.

“No one is above the law,” said Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

Landis attorney Paul Scott said the settlement, while far less than the potential damages, still holds Armstrong accountable for cheating.

“It’s not enough to go on Oprah and say sorry,” Scott said. “Our objective was to hold him responsible financially in a very real way and this deal accomplishes that objective.”

Armstrong is still believed to be worth millions based on a vast investment portfolio and homes in Austin, Texas, and Aspen, Colorado. He also owns a pair of bicycle shops in Austin and WeDu, an endurance events company. He also hosts a regular podcast in which he interviews other sports figures and celebrities and has provided running commentary on the Tour de France.

Armstrong had built a world-wide following during his career winning races and fighting cancer.

His personal story of recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain, while forcefully denying persistent rumors of doping, had built his Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity into a $500 million global brand and turned him into a celebrity. The foundation, which removed him from its board and renamed itself Livestrong, has seen donations and revenue plummet since Armstrong’s confession.

Armstrong’s team was already under the Postal Service sponsorship when he won his first Tour de France in 1999. The media frenzy that followed pushed the agency to sign the team for another five years. Armstrong and his teams dominated cycling’s marquee event, winning every year from 1999-2005.

Armstrong’s cheating was finally uncovered in 2012 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, armed with sworn testimony from Landis and other former teammates, moved to strip Armstrong of his titles.

One of Armstrong’s fiercest critics was frustrated by the settlement. Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie was a former Armstrong teammate, was the first to testify under oath about his performance-enhancing drug use in a 2005 civil lawsuit.

“It’s utterly shocking that the government settled for so little,” Andreu said.

Andreu and her husband were close with Armstrong when the men were teammates before Andreu retired in 2000. Armstrong later strenuously denied Betsy’s claims of drug use and tried to publicly discredit her, which succeeded for years. She wanted the case to go to trial.

“I would have liked to have been questioned under oath. That’s my goal. And whether or not the jury would have convicted him would have been a different story, but it would have been nice to have my say under oath. He tried to destroy me.,” Andreu said.

Landis, himself a former doping cheat who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title, sued Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act, alleging Armstrong and his team committed fraud against the government when they cheated while riding under the Postal Service banner. According to court records, the contract paid the team, which was operated by Tailwind Sports Corp., about $32 million from 2000 to 2004. Armstrong got nearly $13.5 million.

Under the lawsuit, the government could have pursued “treble” damages, which could have reached the $100 million range. As the person who filed the original lawsuit, Landis will receive $1.1 million, Scott said. Armstrong will also pay $1.65 million to cover Landis’ legal fees.

Armstrong had claimed he didn’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid; Armstrong’s lawyers introduced internal studies for the agency that calculated benefits in media exposure topping $100 million. The government countered that Armstrong had been “unjustly enriched” through the sponsorship and that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency’s reputation.

Armstrong had been the target of a federal criminal grand jury, but that case was closed without charges in February 2012. Armstrong had previously tried to settle the Landis whistleblower lawsuit, but those talks broke down before the government announced its intention to join the case.

“I am glad to resolve this case and move forward with my life,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life  my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition. There is a lot to look forward to.”

What Did That Dumb Orange Motherfucker Say Now? (Rising Sun Edition)

Whenever President Donald Trump, an anthropomorphic shart in a suit-shaped sack, gives remarks that are even a little off the cuff, it's a gut-turning embarrassment for the nation. Whatever meager failed vaudevillian patter he may muster when he's in front of an adoring crowd of yahoos dissipates into stone-cold ignorance and bluster that sounds less like the leader of the free world and more like the chief enforcer of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

So it was yesterday down in Florida at Trump's shrine to the worst rich people in the nation, Mar-a-Lago, and his press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trump says so much unbelievably dumbass stuff in a single appearance that it's kind of breathtaking, like he's a performance artist standing on a stage and flinging dog shit at an audience, wondering when the idiots sitting in the theatre will stop pretending it's meaningful and rush the stage to stop him.

Trump really did say, "It was a true privilege to be welcomed to the magnificent land of Japan or, as I have heard all my life, the land of the rising sun" and then followed that with "It's true," as if he just informed everyone of the secret nickname of Japan for the last 1000 years. And he really did say about American manufacture of military weapons, "And nobody, nobody makes it like the United States. It's the best in the world by far," like a desperate Fuller brush door-to-door salesman trying to convince a poor farmer he needs three.

Of course, he said something to undermine the potential upcoming talks with North Korea: "If we don't think it's going to be successful...we won't have it. We won't have it." And then the word "fruitful" got stuck in his moron head because he repeated it: "If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting." Either he eyeballed a bowl of fruit in the room or it came up on his word-a-day calendar that he generally just yells, "You think you're smarter than me?" at.

And he really did give himself all the credit for the success of the Winter Olympics in South Korea: "President Moon of South Korea was very generous when he said if it weren't for Donald Trump, the Olympics would have been a total failure. It was my involvement and the involvement of our great country that made the Olympics a very successful Olympics." You ever notice there's never any such thing as a "partial failure" with Trump? It's always either the greatest success that ever successed in the history of successing because of him or, because of someone he doesn't like, it's a total failure. Obama's foreign policy, the assault weapons ban, North Korea. You get the idea. But what's even more amazing is that this numbnuts thinks that ticket sales at the Olympics, which he claims he's responsible for, are a good indication that he'll be able to make a deal with Kim Jong-un. It's not unlike saying, "Because I could make a clay ashtray, I can sculpt David."

Asked about the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election (and other tasty matters having to do with Trump's businesses), he streamed catchphrases and sound bites ready for Steve Doocy to cream his Sans-a-belts over in the a.m.: "There was no collusion, and that's been so found as you know by the House Intelligence Committee. There's no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia other than by the Democrats or the obstructionists because they truly are obstructionists." Ya gotta love the last thing there, where he says he calls the Democrats "obstructionists" because they are obstructionists. They're Democrats. You could just call 'em that.

And then, swear to fuckin' Christ, he brought up the Electoral College again. "This was a really hoax created largely by the Democrats as way of softening the blow of a loss which is a loss that frankly they shouldn't have had from the standpoint that it's very easy for them. They have a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College and this is what it is and this is where it came from," he said, like a brain-damaged Popeye snarling, "I yam what I yam what I yam what I yam" on an endless loop. On it went, with Trump repeatedly referring to himself in the third person like some kind of goon: "There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump... Russia will tell you, there has been nobody tougher than Donald Trump."

You know what was great about every other president ever? They occasionally stayed out of the public eye for a while so that they didn't become utterly fucking tedious in their repetitive bullshit. This fuckin' shtick is getting so old. How can anyone find this endearing or interesting except in how fuckin' weird it all is? I could honestly say that people who supported George W. Bush were fuckers, but I understood why they did it. I don't fuckin' get this at all. I don't fuckin' get how "makin' the libtards mad" is enough for some people. It's like when some guy tells you he just loves getting hand jobs and only hand jobs from other guys. You just wanna say, "You know, there's a whole lot more to fucking than gettin' one rubbed out by strange hands."

An Electoral Strategy for National Renewal

We have a serious problem with our floundering democracy.

Our elected representatives don’t represent us. Thus, the people have no real voice in the direction and running of the country.

Yes, every election cycle candidates make delightful speeches, offering vague but pleasant rhetoric on all the wonderful things they will do for “we the people” once elected.

Unfortunately, when they arrive in Washington, D.C., amnesia sets in, and they forget the folks back home who put them in their cushy jobs in our nation’s capital. They then take their marching orders from their deep-pocketed corporate patrons slash ruling elite puppet masters, and we get a country that only serves the rich and powerful, with the rest of us scrambling to survive.

This is why we’ve created the CFAR national electoral strategy.

CFAR stands for Contract For American Renewal. It’s a contract between a candidate for office and the voters in his or her voting jurisdiction—i.e., their congressional district or their state.

The candidate contract idea is simple and straightforward.

The candidate contract takes the guesswork out of voting.

It’s a radical innovation that sets a new standard for electoral integrity. It provides a bulletproof mechanism for deciding where a candidate stands on crucial issues, how serious that candidate is about solving the problems that are important to voters, how serious that candidate is about representing his or her constituents.

In fact, it sets down in writing exactly what that candidate will be doing on 11 key initiatives when he or she arrives in Washington, D.C.—right from Day One.

Every candidate says the right things. They always say what they think the voters want to hear, the things that will get them elected. Everyone understands this.

But talk is cheap. Conjoined at the pocketbook with their rich patrons, our elected officials do not now nor will they in the foreseeable future serve the needs of their constituents. There may be occasional token efforts, but nothing of substance or enduring impact to “promote the general welfare” of the vast majority of everyday citizens will make it into law.

How do we know?

That’s simple. It’s so obvious anyone can see it. You just have to look.

Consider a few of these items:

● Sixty-three percent of Americans want a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour.

That means more than six out of every 10 citizens want the minimum wage more than doubled. Mind you, the minimum livable wage in urban areas like New York, San Francisco and Boston is over $22 per hour. But an increase to $15 per hour is at least a start in the right direction. What is it now? A paltry $7.25 an hour. And the minimum wage in America has not increased since July 2009. That’s nine years ago. Four Congresses have come and gone without acting.

● Seventy-five percent of voters want fair trade agreements protecting jobs, workers, the environment. Seventy-five percent. That’s a huge majority opposed to the trade bills which give corporations enormous advantages, are responsible for exporting our jobs, destroying our unions, replacing good permanent employment with low-wage, temporary jobs. Is Congress listening? It’s obvious it doesn’t matter which party is in the Oval Office or even on Capitol Hill. We still get NAFTA, CAFTA, TTIP, WTO. Two years ago, our pay-for-play legislators in the deep pockets of the multinational corporations fast-tracked TPP, the worst trade bill in history. These neoliberal lapdogs won’t quit until we’re all back to being hunter-gatherers.

● Seventy-six percent of voters want a cutback on military spending. So what do we get? Donald Trump proposed—and Congress passed—an increase of $56 billion in the official defense budget with members from both parties egging him on like a bunch of snarling pit bulls. And next year’s official Department of Defense budget is one of the largest ever.

● Seventy-six percent of voters want the U.S. completely out of Afghanistan. We’ve been fighting that miserable pointless war for more than 16 years, folks. They promised to get U.S. troops out of the country by 2014. Now it’s 2018 and they’re putting troops back in. We’re going to be there forever. For what? To waste another $600 billion and have more of our best and brightest come back in body bags?

● Seventy-nine percent of voters want no reductions in Social Security, 70 percent support expanding it. Seventy-nine percent of voters want no reductions in Medicare. Here we have two of the most successful programs in our history, loved and supported by the people. Yet every new session of Congress, there’s talk about cutting benefits and raising the eligibility age. Slash, slash, slash. Or they talk about “privatizing” these programs, which is doublespeak for turning them over to Wall Street so it can gamble with the money we’ve put away all our lives. It’s truly a crime.

There are many more; I’ve just scratched the surface.

But there’s one last one I’ll mention that truly tells the story, that shows what a sad state of affairs our faltering democracy is in. Get this: Ninety-three percent of Americans want GMO labeling. They’re not saying GMOs must be banned. They’re just saying the labels for our processed food should say whether the product contains GMO ingredients or not, so that a shopper can make an informed judgment about whether they want to buy it—a mother who wants to be prudent in planning the diet for her kids, a person who may have severe food allergies which requires them to pay attention to the ingredients on a label. Ninety-three percent. That crosses all party lines, ideologies, religions. It includes liberals, conservatives, all races and ethnicities, and likely, even visitors from outer space. Ninety-three percent. And Congress won’t pass a bill requiring GMO labeling. That really **says it all, doesn’t it?

Our answer to this obstinacy, this total defiance of the will of the American people, the corruption that has poisoned the political process and all but destroyed our democracy, is the Contract For American Renewal.

The CFAR includes 11 initiatives. These are the things millions of Americans want done—a huge majority of U.S. citizens.

As different as these items are individually, they all have one thing in common: None of them gets through our deadbeat Congress.

Well, I shouldn’t say it’s deadbeat, because it’s not. Our representatives are working hard to make sure none of these things gets passed. They’re working hard not for you and me, but for their rich patrons, their deep-pocketed Wall Street donors, their Koch brothers, their defense contractors, investment bankers and hedge-fund buddies.

As I said, but it’s worth repeating: Candidates always say the right things. Take minimum wage.

“By golly, I believe everyone deserves the right to make a decent living. This is the richest nation on earth. Every person deserves a good life.”

Sound familiar? What’s an elected official going to say? “I think some folks should starve to death on slave wages?” Of course not. But they use a lot of words to say nothing.

The CFAR makes it a simple but powerful yes or no question: Will you commit in writing to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour? Yes or no?

By using the CFAR, what we’re saying to a candidate is this:

We love your TV ads, you’ve got a lovely family, your T-shirts and bumper stickers look great. But running this country is serious business. So from now on, we want it in writing, in black-and-white, in a legally binding contract, what you will be doing to serve us, the folks who are sending you to your cushy job in Washington, D.C.

We want in no uncertain terms what you will do for us, the majority of citizens of this country, spelled out as an “employment contract” and we are asking you to sign it. We’re not forcing you. It’s your choice. It’s a straightforward deal here. You sign the contract, you’ve got our vote. You don’t sign the contract, we’re looking for a candidate who has the integrity, courage and responsibility to sign it. We’ll be voting for that person. Understand this: There’s no room for negotiation. This is final. That’s the way it works now.

No ambiguity. No compromise. No equivocation. No smoke and mirrors.

Professional politicians have gotten spoiled. They get so much attention, so much money, so many favors lavished on them once they get into office, they forget the most important single aspect of their job description: They work for us. We’re not casting votes for them to talk to lobbyists and rich campaign donors. We’re casting our votes to have them go to D.C. and work on behalf of us, the people, the everyday Americans that make up 99 percent of the population.

Please, readers. Just look at the CFAR. It’s posted here on our website. Everything in the CFAR is what, at minimum, 62 percent of us regular folks want to see happen. On many items, it’s even greater—75 percent, 78 percent, 80 percent. Right now those things are not getting done. Year after year, our elected officials ignore the will of the people, the very citizens who vote them into office. The CFAR, starting in the November 2018 election, will make sure they start paying attention.

Here’s the simple truth. Here’s what’s happening on the ground in real time right now in America:

Voters are tired of slick campaign rhetoric and empty campaign promises. They’re fed up with a system that’s rigged.

They’re fed up with being left behind, forgotten by their elected officials.

They’re tired of everything getting done for Wall Street, the big banks, the corporations, the wealthy.

They’re fed up with nothing getting done for the people—honest, hard-working everyday citizens.

Folks, we need to draw a line in the sand.

That’s exactly what the CFAR candidate contract does. It lets us know exactly who’s on our side and who isn’t.

OK, one last point. People sometimes ask me: “What kind of candidate would sign such a contract?”

The answer is simple: A populist-progressive candidate who wants to win the coming election. The CFAR spells out what the voters want by huge majorities. Voters are sick of compromises. They want the job done and want it done right. The CFAR delivers the certainty they’re looking for.

Having said that, it’s entirely clear what needs to be done on the other side of the equation: Voters need to stand united and stand strong. The message is clear: Vote only for CFAR candidates. Vote only for candidates who are on your side, who will work for you. The CFAR is the new standard by which voters can easily determine if a candidate deserves the job of representing them in Washington, D.C. It’s the mark of a “people’s candidate,” a badge of honor that sets them above their sweet-talking establishment opponents. Support them. Vote for them. Elect them.

Let me add some beautifully twisted logic to further illustrate why a candidate would want to sign this contract.

We all know there are some good people in politics, decent human beings who truly want to do the right thing. But politics is often more about power, money, twisting arms, bullying (sometimes legal bribery) than about doing what’s good for the people.

So let’s say our candidate—who has signed the contract—arrives in Washington and right off the bat, there’s some lobbyist at his or her door. The lobbyist gives his pitch, the typical let’s-see-what-we-can-do-here, the usual I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you’ll-scratch-my-back yadda yadda. He’s got some mega transnational corporation paying him big bucks to wax the slide with Congress and get some favorable legislation passed.

Here’s the beauty of the contract. Our guy or gal, the one who got elected because he or she signed on the dotted line with voters, can say: “Hey, I sure appreciate your coming in and talking to me about this. But here’s the deal. I’m under contract to my constituents. I have no room to negotiate, no room to trade or bargain on any of this. If I go against my constituents on this, I’ll be on the streets without this job, I’ll have to refund all my campaign contributions (and hey, the money is spent, how will I begin to do that?), and I’ll probably get my ass sued for more money than I’ll make in a lifetime. So even if I wanted to go along with what you’re proposing, I have no choice. I am legally bound by contract to answer only to those who voted me into office. Thanks for stopping by. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

See how this works? See why this introduces an unprecedented level of honesty, transparency and integrity back into voting? Do you see why at least in terms of good, decent, honest politicians, we’re actually doing them a favor with this contract?

Let me wrap this up.

In a nutshell, the CFAR puts everyone on the same page.

Voters get a guarantee of service from candidates who are not aligned with or groveling before the corrupting pressures of cronyism and big-money politics.

Candidates who genuinely want to serve their constituents won’t—can’t—compromise and bend under the pressures of lobbyists and other foot soldiers of the ruling elite. Thus, candidates offer honest, loyal, transparent, accountable service to those who elect them.

Activists can devote time and energy to candidates who have guaranteed in writing to deliver on initiatives supported by huge majorities of citizens, with the certainty that their faith and dedication will not be repaid with hypocrisy and treachery, as has happened so often in the past.

Yes, the Contract For American Renewal is a new, untried innovation. But it’s a necessary innovation. Before there were cars, we didn’t need traffic lights. Before big money and unprecedented concentration of wealth and power was transferred into the hands of a ruling elite, we didn’t need an enforceable contract with our elected officials. Times change, and we need to change with them. The CFAR is the answer to the dismal state of our democracy.

Granted, we have a lot of work to do to repair the mess we’re in. But good work depends on good, dependable workers. Let’s put some real public servants in office who will serve the public, not just the rich and powerful. Let’s put some representatives in Congress who will represent everyday Americans, not Wall Street banks, corporate CEOs, not the incomprehensibly rich. Let’s put some integrity back into our elections by electing only those with the integrity to sign on the dotted line, guaranteeing they will listen to and work for the folks who elected them.

Remember, our screwed-up democracy is not going to fix itself. And certainly the ruling elite, the corporate kleptocrats and their bought-and-paid-for lackeys now in Congress are not going to fix it. They’re the ones who broke it.

It’s entirely up to us.

The CFAR electoral strategy is our plan for taking back the power—people power—and building an America that works for everyone, not just the 1 percent at the top: the selfish, ruling elite who will continue to strip mine our economy, destroy our democracy and hack away at the American dream with their insatiable greed and selfishness.

If we stand strong and stand united, we can do this. We owe it to ourselves and future generations.

Vote only for candidates who have signed the CFAR, the Contract For American Renewal, in the November 2018 election.

That simple act can change everything.

Truthdig has taken no editorial position on the Contract for American Renewal.

Southwest Resisted Plan for Accelerated Safety Test

DALLAS  Southwest Airlines sought more time last year to inspect fan blades like the one that snapped off during one of its flights Tuesday in an engine failure that left a passenger dead.

The airline opposed a recommendation by the engine manufacturer to require ultrasonic inspections of certain fan blades within 12 months, saying it needed more time to conduct the work.

Southwest made the comments last year after U.S. regulators proposed making the inspections mandatory. The Federal Aviation Administration has not yet required airlines to conduct the inspections but said late Wednesday that it would do so in the next two weeks.

The manufacturer’s recommendation for more inspections followed an engine blowup on a 2016 Southwest flight. On Tuesday, an engine on another Southwest jet exploded over Pennsylvania, and debris hit the plane. A woman was sucked partway out of the jet when a window shattered. She died later from her injuries.

The plane, a Boeing 737 bound from New York to Dallas with 149 people aboard, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Passenger Andrew Needum, a Texas firefighter, said Thursday that he was helping his family and other passengers with their oxygen masks when he heard a commotion behind him. His wife nodded that it was OK for Needum to leave his family to help the injured woman.

Texas rancher Tim McGinty, of Hillsboro, said Tuesday that he and Needum struggled to pull 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan back into the plane. Needum and retired school nurse Peggy Phillips began administering CPR for about 20 minutes, until the plane landed.

Needum on Thursday declined to detail his rescue efforts out of respect for Riordan’s family.

“I feel for her family. I feel for her two kids, her husband, the community that they lived in,” an emotional Needum told reporters. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”

Federal investigators are still trying to determine how the window came out of the plane. Riordan, who was in a window seat in Row 14, was wearing a seat belt.

Philadelphia’s medical examiner said the banking executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico, died from blunt-impact injuries to her head, neck and torso.

Investigators said the blade that broke off mid-flight and triggered the fatal accident was showing signs of metal fatigue  microscopic cracks from repeated use.

The National Transportation Safety Board also blamed metal fatigue for the engine failure on a Southwest plane in Florida in 2016 that was able to land safely.

That incident led manufacturer CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA, to recommend in June 2017 that airlines conduct ultrasonic inspections of fan blades on many Boeing 737s.

The FAA proposed making the recommendation mandatory in August but never issued a final decision.

On Wednesday, the FAA said it would issue a directive in the next two weeks to require the ultrasonic inspections of fan blades on some CFM56-7B engines after they reach a certain number of takeoffs and landings. Blades that fail inspection would need to be replaced.

It was not immediately clear how many planes would be affected. Last year, the FAA estimated that an order would cover 220 engines on U.S. airlines. That number could be higher now because more engines have hit the number of flights triggering an inspection.

Southwest announced its own program for similar inspections of its 700-plane fleet over the next month. United Airlines said Wednesday it has begun inspecting some of its planes.

American Airlines has about 300 planes with that type of engine, and Delta has about 185. It will not be clear until the FAA issues its rule how many will need inspections.

Tuesday’s emergency broke a string of eight straight years without a fatal accident involving a U.S. airliner.

“Engine failures like this should not occur,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB, said Wednesday.

Sumwalt expressed concern about such a destructive engine failure but said it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the safety of CFM56 engines or the entire fleet of Boeing 737s, the most popular airliner ever built.

It is unknown whether the FAA’s original directive would have forced Southwest to quickly inspect the engine that blew up.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the plane was inspected on Sunday and nothing appeared out of order. A spokeswoman said it was a visual inspection.

The NTSB’s Sumwalt said, however, that the kind of wear seen where the missing fan blade broke off would not have been visible just by looking at the engine.


AP Airlines Writer David Koenig reported from Dallas.

Demand Freedom for Siwatu-Salama Ra

Siwatu-Salama Ra is no stranger to standing her ground. It was because she did, though, that the 26-year-old pregnant mother may have to give birth while imprisoned. Siwatu, an environmental and racial-justice activist, was unjustly prosecuted and imprisoned, and, now in the third trimester of a high-risk pregnancy, is serving a mandatory two-year sentence. She, her family, her lawyers, her Detroit community and a global network of activists who know her as a crusading organizer are doing all they can to ensure that she is released to have her child safely, with her family by her side. The time between Earth Day and Mother’s Day will be critical.

“This tragic story started on a Sunday evening in July in Detroit at Siwatu’s family home, where her mother, sister, brother and nieces resided,” Victoria Burton-Harris, Siwatu’s attorney, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour.

In a video released by the FreeSiwatu.org website, Siwatu recounted the incident that led to her imprisonment, speaking about the woman who had dropped her child off at their house:

“She started yelling at me, screaming at me, cursing at me. In the midst of this, I’m asking this woman to leave, just go, and she wouldn’t. So the next thing that she did was ram her car into my car. Plus, my baby was in the car, playing. That shocked fear in me, and I jumped and got my baby out of the car. She’s literally going back and forth with this car, putting it in reverse and fixing herself to come at us again and go after my mom. My mother, who was also standing very close to me, wasn’t able to run.”

Her mother, Rhonda Anderson, added: “She’s using her car as a weapon. When I could not move, that’s when I was the most frightened. She was so close to hitting me that I can feel the car on my clothes.”

Siwatu continued: “That’s when I made the decision to reach for my firearm, that was unloaded, with no bullets. I was afraid. And I told her, ‘You have to leave now.'”

Siwatu was licensed to carry a concealed firearm. The assailant quickly snapped photos of her holding the gun, then fled to a police station, where she filed a report. Siwatu filed a police complaint as well, several hours later. Unbelievably, the police contend that whoever in a conflict files the police report first is considered, automatically, the victim. The second person is automatically considered the aggressor.

Following that bizarre logic, the police never followed up on Siwatu’s complaint. Rather, several weeks later, a SWAT team descended on her home and arrested her.

The jury trial went twice as long as the judge predicted. As the jury began deliberating, a massive snowstorm was heading to Detroit, adding pressure on jurors to render a verdict quickly. Critically, the jury was never told that the charges carried a mandatory minimum two-year sentence, meaning that the judge could not use any discretion. The jurors found Siwatu guilty of two of three charges. Her conviction is on appeal.

Siwatu is the co-director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, where she started as a youth leader in her teens. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement: “Siwatu has spent her life fighting environmental injustice and pushing back against the big polluters who are violating the law to poison her community. She does this difficult work against the backdrop of a legal system and society that disproportionately oppress people of color, particularly Black women, at every turn.”

Brune continued: “Her unjust incarceration during a high-risk pregnancy is just one example of the racism people of color in our country experience every day. Her story underscores the reality that our struggles are all deeply connected — from environmental justice to the fight against racialized oppression in the criminal justice system.”

From Earth Day this Sunday through Mother’s Day in May, Siwatu-Salama Ra should just be concerned with giving birth to a healthy son, into a world she has been fighting to make healthier for all. Instead, she sits in a prison cell, seven months pregnant, facing the prospect of being shackled en route to the hospital, and not being able to breastfeed her newborn when she returns to the prison. The growing #FreeSiwatu movement is working to prevent this gross miscarriage of justice.

Chinese E-Commerce Giant Alibaba Sets Plans for Thailand

BANGKOK  The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has agreed to step up investments in Thailand as competition between online retailers heats up in fast-growing Southeast Asia.

The founder of the online shopping giant, Jack Ma, met with Thailands prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, on Thursday and later signed several agreements, including one to help set up a smart digital hub in a showcase project called the Eastern Economic Corridor, to facilitate trade between Thailand, China, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Both Ma and Prayuth sought to allay concerns that Alibabas growing involvement might increase Chinese influence without benefiting Thailand. Across the region, such concerns have deepened as Beijing expands investments in a slew of projects that help expand transportation and supply chain networks linked to China.

Are we going to occupy Thailand, are we going to take away the jobs? Ma said at a news conference. We are not interested in that. We are interested in and focusing on enabling entrepreneurs and partners in Thailand.

Prayuth told reporters that the amount of investment involved would be determined later. Earlier, Thai media reported that Alibaba plans to invest 11 billion Thai baht ($350 million) in the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Reports said the hub, due to be completed next year, would also serve as a research and development center for Alibaba.

Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup, said he asked Ma to help Thailand to boost exports of rice, palm oil and rubber and to help the countrys low-income and farm workers.

Ma told the Thai leader that Alibaba could help develop logistics systems to speed up delivery of farm products, he said.

Therefore, this is beneficial to Thailand. Dont think of this as being disadvantageous for Thailand, Prayuth said.

The government said Alibaba also plans to help train Thai entrepreneurs and small businesses in e-commerce and to set up an online tourism platform.

Alibaba and Amazon both have been expanding in Southeast Asia, an increasingly affluent region of more than 600 million people. E-commerce still accounts for less than 3 percent of retail sales in the region but is growing quickly.

Last month, Alibaba announced it was investing another $2 billion in regional online retailer Lazada Group, doubling its stake in the company that it gained control of in 2016.


Associated Press writer Kaweewit Kaewjinda contributed.

U.S. Says Its Maintaining Pressure on North Korea

WASHINGTON  The Latest on the United States and North Korea (all times local):

8:05 a.m.

A U.S. ambassador says his country is maintaining a “maximum pressure campaign” to convince North Korea to denuclearize even as Washington prepares a summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Robert Wood, the top U.S. envoy to the U.N.-hosted Conference on Disarmament, says the U.S. believes the ongoing pressure campaign “has had an important impact in the North’s decision to return to the table.”

At a news conference Thursday ahead of a meeting next week on nuclear nonproliferation, Wood said the U.S. welcomed Pyongyang’s willingness to talk about denuclearization. He called the summit planned for late May or early June a “momentous time.”

Asked by a reporter, Wood said he has received “absolutely no instructions” about possibly easing the pressure on Pyongyang so as not to scuttle the summit.


12:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not a sure thing.

He says he could still pull out of a meeting if he feels it’s “not going to be fruitful.”

Trump says a summit with Kim could take place by early June, although the venue has yet to be decided.

It would be the first such leadership summit between the two nations after six decades of hostility following the Korean War.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim secretly met more than two weeks ago.

Their Plight Is Ignored, Some Male Victims of Sex Abuse Say

For some male victims of sexual assault and abuse, #MeToo can feel more like #WhatAboutMe?

They admire the women speaking out about traumatic experiences as assault and harassment victims, while wondering whether men with similar scars will ever receive a comparable level of public empathy and understanding.

Because the movement happened to get its start with women only, in a way it furthers my loneliness as a past victim, said Chris Brown, a University of Minnesota music professor. He was among several men who in December accused renowned conductor James Levine of abusing them as teens several decades ago, leading to Levines recent firing by the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Men are historically considered the bad guys, suggested Brown, referring to public attitudes. If some men abuse women, then we all are abusers ourselves … so therefore when it comes to our being abused, we deserve it.

Browns sense of distance from the #MeToo movement is shared by other abused men  some of whom have been using a #MenToo hashtag on Twitter.

Were never necessarily welcome to the parade, said Andrew Schmutzer, a professor of biblical studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago who has written about being abused as a teen.

As a male survivor youre always an adjunct, he said. Youre never the leading subject of a conversation.

Schmutzer is among a group of survivors and therapists forming the leadership of MaleSurvivor, which since its incorporation in 1995 has sought to provide support and resources to men who suffered sexual abuse as children or adults. It says its website has been visited by hundreds of thousands of men worldwide.

The psychologists and therapists who work with MaleSurvivor endorse the findings of multiple studies concluding that about one in six men in the U.S. experienced childhood sexual abuse, compared with one in four women. Many adult men also suffer sexual abuse: Rape in prison is frequent, and the latest Pentagon survey found that 6,300 men in the military said they were victims of sexual assault or other unwanted sexual contact in 2016.

Despite such data, experts say many men, because of social stigma and feelings of shame, are reluctant to speak up about the abuse they experienced or to seek professional help.

Joan Cook, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine, has been treating sexually abused men for more than 20 years.

Many of them still espouse this John Wayne mentality, she said. If something bad happens to you, just wall it off and dont acknowledge it to yourself or others.

Some of her patients fear theyll be perceived as weak if they go public about their abuse, she said, while others worry people will view them as more likely to be abusers themselves because of what they suffered as children.

According to MaleSurvivor, a significant portion of abuse perpetrators report having been victimized by abuse, but most victims do not go on to commit sexual abuse against others.

New York-based psychoanalyst Richard Gartner, a co-founder of MaleSurvivor, says theres increased public awareness of the childhood sexual abuse of males as a result of the extensive publicity given to scandals within the Roman Catholic Church and at Penn State University, where Jerry Sandusky was an assistant football coach before being convicted in 2012 of sexual abuse of 10 boys.

However, Gartner, like other advocates for abused men, said that in both those cases, public attention was far more focused on the perpetrators than on their victims.

Given the reluctance of many male survivors to speak publicly about the abuse, Gartner says its helpful when prominent men, including actors, music stars and pro athletes, do make that decision.

They are models for others to come forward, to tell their families, to find help, Gartner said. It becomes a less shameful thing when somebody famous says it happened to them.

Among the celebrities who have taken that step: former pro hockey star Theo Fleury, Cy Young-award-winning baseball pitcher R.A. Dickey; film director Tyler Perry; actors Tom Arnold and Anthony Edwards; and Chester Bennington, lead singer for the rock band Linkin Park, who hanged himself last year.

Edwards, best known for his role on the television series ER, announced Wednesday that he has joined the board of directors of 1in6, a national nonprofit similar to MaleSurvivor that supports men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault.

Dickey and Perry, in accounts of their youth, say they were abused by females as well as males  in Dickeys case a teenage baby sitter, in Perrys case the mother of a friend.

The Catholic Church and Penn State scandals reinforced a pervasive perception that the child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, but Gartner said female-on-male abuse is not as rare as people think.

According to one large-scale study published in 2005 by researchers with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, female perpetrators accounted for 40 percent of the child sexual abuse experienced by men. The study found that both men and women who were abused as children were twice as likely as other people to attempt suicide later in life.

Perry, in an interview in December with The Associated Press, recalled how difficult it was for him to go public about the abuse he suffered. He expressed hope that the momentum of the #MeToo movement might ease the path for other survivors.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage and its very, very scary and you dont know how people are going to react to it, he said. So being in this moment, you know Im hoping that there is change.

Joan Cook, the Yale professor, said she was thrilled by the magnitude of the #MeToo movement, yet frustrated on behalf of abused men who dont seem to be included under the tent.

Women have waited so long to get their due, so maybe theres an attitude of, Dont take away my voice, Cook said. But its not a competition.

Men also have been waiting a long time, and they shouldnt have to wait. They should be heard now.


Follow David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

Leslie Nielsen

"Doing nothing is very hard to do ... you never know when you're finished."

James Thurber

"I do not have a psychiatrist and I do not want one, for the simple reason that if he listened to me long enough, he might become disturbed."

Laurence J. Peter

"Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults by confessing our parents' shortcomings."

Cool and Calm Southwest Pilot a Pioneer in Her Field

BOERNE, Texas—The Southwest Airlines pilot being lauded as a hero in a harrowing emergency landing after a passenger was partially blown out of the jet’s damaged fuselage is also being hailed for her pioneering role in a career where she has been one of the few women at the controls.

Tammie Jo Shults, one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy, was the captain and piloting the Dallas-bound Flight 1380 when it made an emergency landing Tuesday in Philadelphia, according to her husband, Dean Shults.

One of the engines on the Boeing 737 exploded while the plane was traveling 500 mph (800 kph) at 30,000 feet (9144 m) with 149 people on board. Shrapnel hit the plane and passengers said they had to rescue a woman who was being blown out of a damaged window. The woman later died of blunt force trauma to her head, neck and torso.

Shults calmly relayed details about the crisis to air traffic controllers, and passengers commended her handling of the situation.

Friends at Shults’ church in Boerne, Texas, about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, said Wednesday they were not surprised after listening to the recording and reading media reports about her actions.

“Everybody is talking about Tammie Jo and how cool and calm she was in a crisis, and that’s just Tammie Jo,” Rachel Russo said. “That’s how she’s wired.”

Shults was commissioned into the Navy in 1985 and reached the rank of lieutenant commander, said Commander Ron Flanders, the spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.

Women aviators were excluded from combat missions until the month after Shults got off active duty in March 1993, but Flanders said Shults flew during Operation Desert Storm trainings as an aggressor enemy pilot.

“While we at that time had an exclusion, she was in fact helping male pilots hone their skills,” Flanders said.

Veteran Navy combat aviator Linda Maloney said that she and Shults were among a small group of women who worked to see the combat exclusion rule repealed.

“Obviously it was frustrating,” said Maloney, who became among the first women to join a combat military flying squadron and was deployed to the Arabian Gulf. “We go through the same training that the guys do, and our hope was the Navy would allow us to fly in combat at some point.”

Shults was featured in Maloney’s book “Military Fly Moms” along with the stories and photos of 69 other women U.S. military veterans.

Russo and Staci Thompson, who has known Shults for about 20 years and was nanny to her two children when they were small, said she “loved” her military career but has alluded to frustrations and challenges that came with it.

They also said she embraced those experiences to make her stronger and guide her into a role as a mentor to young female pilots or girls thinking about a military career.

“She learned a lot about overcoming things as a woman in a male-dominated field,” Russo said.

Shults is from New Mexico, according to a personnel file from the Navy, and was a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness.

Shults’ brother-in-law, Gary Shults, said her husband also is a Southwest pilot and told him she made the emergency landing.

“She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack,” said Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio. “My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows.”


Schmall reported from Fort Worth, Texas. Associated Press writers Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City, Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, and Terry Wallace and business writer David Koening in Dallas contributed to this story.

Ex-Playboy Model Free Now to Talk About Affair With Trump

LOS ANGELES—A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with now-President Donald Trump settled her lawsuit Wednesday with a supermarket tabloid over an agreement that prohibited her from discussing the relationship publicly.

Karen McDougal’s settlement with the company that owns the National Enquirer “restores to me the rights to my life story and frees me from this contract that I was misled into signing nearly two years ago,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

In August 2016, the tabloid’s parent company, American Media Inc., paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about the alleged relationship, but the story never ran.

Last month, McDougal filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles asking to invalidate the contract. The suit alleged Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, was secretly involved in her discussions with AMI executives.

Federal agents raided Cohen’s office and residence last week seeking any information on payments made in 2016 to McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, according to people familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss it publicly. Daniels has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. The search warrants also sought bank records, records on Cohen’s dealings in the taxi industry and his communications with the Trump campaign, the people said.

Under the settlement agreement, McDougal can keep the $150,000 she was paid and AMI has the rights to up to $75,000 for any future profits from her story about the relationship. The company also retains the rights to photographs of McDougal that it already has, the settlement said.

AMI had argued McDougal had been allowed to speak about her relationship since 2016 and the contract gave the company discretion over whether to publish the story.

In an interview with CNN that aired last month, McDougal said Trump tried to pay her after their first sexual tryst at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2006. McDougal said she continued the relationship with Trump for about 10 months and broke it off in April 2007 because she felt guilty.

The White House has said Trump denies having an affair with McDougal. Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, in 2005, and their son, Barron, was born in 2006.

“My goal from the beginning was to restore my rights and not to achieve any financial gain, and this settlement does exactly that,” McDougal said. “I am relieved to be able to tell the truth about my story when asked, and I look forward to being able to return to my private life and focus on what matters to me.”

Republican Official Credits Voter ID Law for Trump Wisconsin Victory

Democrats and elected officials have long argued that a Wisconsin voter identification law allowed Donald Trump to win the state in 2016 by keeping thousands of voters from the polls. A top Republican official has now asserted the same.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who defended the voter identification law in court, told conservative radio host Vicki McKenna Thursday, We battled to get voter ID on the ballot for the November 16 election. How many of your listeners really honestly are sure that Sen. [Ron] Johnson was going to win reelection or President Trump was going to win Wisconsin if we didnt have voter ID to keep Wisconsins elections clean and honest and have integrity?

Mother Jones reports:

The law, which went into effect in 2016, required specific forms of government-issued photo identification to vote. In a cover story last year, Mother Jones reported that the law kept tens of thousands of eligible voters from the polls and likely tipped the state to Trump. A federal court found in 2014 that 9 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin did not possess the identification necessary to vote. In a University of Wisconsin study published in September 2017, 1 in 10 registered voters in Milwaukee County and Madisons Dane County who did not cast a ballot in 2016 cited the voter ID law as a reason why. That meant that up to 23,000 voters in the two heavily Democratic countiesand as many as 45,000 voters statewidedidnt vote because of the voter ID law. Trump won the state by 22,000 votes.

African Americans, who favored Hillary Clinton over Trump by an 88-to-8 margin, were three times as likely as whites to say they were deterred from voting by the law.

Voter turnout indeed fell most dramatically in Milwaukees black neighborhoods, which were expected to vote for Clinton. Nearly 41,000 fewer people in Milwaukee voted in 2016 than in 2012. Rolling Stone reports that while Wisconsin ranked second in the nation in voter participation in 2008 and 2012, the state saw a 3.3 percent drop in voter turnout in 2016the largest decrease of any state other than Mississippi. About half of the decrease occurred in Milwaukee.

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, told Mother Jones, It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin.

Republicans asserted that the voter ID laws were necessary to prevent fraud, though voter fraud is rare in Wisconsin and nationwide: According to one major study, there were only 31 cases of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014.

Mother Jones continues:

Though Schimel said the law would keep Wisconsins elections clean and honest, the state didnt present a single case of voter impersonation in court that the law would have stopped. The law remains in effect for the 2018 elections and could once again boost Republicans running for reelection, including Schimel and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker disagreed with Schimels suggestion that the voter ID law enabled Johnson to win re-election and Trump to win the state in the 2016 election. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Asked Monday whether he agreed with Schimel that voter ID made the difference for both candidates, Walker told reporters that Johnson worked “his tail off” on the campaign trail and made a “great connection” with voters.

As for Trump, Walker said it was clear people weren’t happy with Hillary Clinton because she didn’t visit the state after the primary and Trump connected with people who felt ignored.

Republicans have also been accused of gerrymandering by manipulating Wisconsin voter district boundaries. In November 2016, a federal court panel struck down Wisconsin’s state legislative maps as “an unconstitutional political gerrymander” that was “intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters … by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.”

Island-Wide Blackout in Puerto Rico: Like the First Day of Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico  An island-wide blackout hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the U.S. territory struggles to repair an increasingly unstable power grid nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria. Officials said an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line.

Officials said it could take 24 to 36 hours to fully restore power to more than 1.4 million customers as outrage grew across the island about the state of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. It is the second major outage in less than a week, with the previous one affecting some 840,000 customers.

“This is too much,” said Luis Oscar Rivera, a 42-year-old computer technician who just got normal power back at his house less than two months ago. “It’s like the first day of Maria all over again.”

Several large power outages have hit Puerto Rico in recent months, but Wednesday was the first time since the Category 4 storm struck on Sept. 20 that the U.S. territory has experienced a full island-wide blackout. It snarled traffic across the island, interrupted classes and work and forced dozens of businesses to temporarily close, including the island’s largest mall and popular tourist attractions like a 16th-century fort in the historic part of Puerto Rico’s capital.

Backup generators roared to life at the island’s largest public hospital and at its main international airport, where officials reported no cancellations or delays. Meanwhile, the power company said its own customer service center was out of service and asked people to go online or use the phone.

Officials said restoring power to hospitals, airports, banking centers and water pumping systems was their priority. Following that would be businesses and then homes.

Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the capital of San Juan, said the outage would not interrupt the last of a two-game series between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, which is being played on the island. She said all emergency systems at Hiram Bithorn stadium are functioning and that tower lights and additional security will be placed at the stadium’s parking lot.

Justo Gonzalez, the power company’s executive sub-director, told reporters that a private contractor removing a collapsed tower during unrelated power restoration efforts near the south coast hit the transmission line on Wednesday with an excavator.

“We are working in areas that are quite crowded with high voltage lines,” he said.

It is the second such incident in less than a week. On Thursday, a tree fell on a power line as the same private contractor cleared land in central Puerto Rico, leading to a widespread power outage. A backup line that was supposed to prevent that outage failed.

Fredyson Martinez, vice president of a union that represents power company workers in Puerto Rico, told The Associated Press that he was concerned about the two back-to-back incidents.

“That is not normal,” he said.

Government officials said that a company hired by Cobra Energy known as Dgrimm was involved in both incidents that led to the power outages. Dgrimm had been asked to change its security protocols after the first incident, and it has since been terminated, said William Rios, power generation director.

“This is unacceptable for us,” he said, adding that government attorneys are meeting with officials at Cobra Energy, a Mammoth Energy subsidiary hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help with power restoration efforts.

Angel Figueroa, president of the power workers’ union, told reporters workers are investigating why a backup breaker at a main power station in the island’s southern region did not function when the outage occurred, causing the entire electrical grid to shut down to protect itself. He noted it was the same problem that caused a 2016 power outage that affected the entire island.

Geraldo Quinones, a power company spokesman, said in a phone interview that crews are investigating why the breaker failed.

Rivera said he worries that such serious power outages are still occurring as the new Atlantic hurricane season, which starts on June 1, approaches.

“If there’s a slight storm, we’re going to be worse off than we are right now,” he said.

Federal officials who testified before Congress last week said they expect to have a plan by June on how to strengthen and stabilize the island’s power grid, noting that up to 75 percent of distribution lines were damaged by high winds and flooding. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the federal power restoration efforts, said they hope to have the entire island fully energized by May. Some 40,000 power customers still remain without normal electrical service as a result of the hurricane.

The new blackout occurred as Puerto Rico legislators debate a bill that would privatize the island’s power company, which is $14 billion in debt and relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average.

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