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Drone footage of Hurricane Michael’s destruction

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155 MPH winds from category 4 Hurricane Michael decimated Mexico Beach, Florida. Some areas along the coast are absolutely flattened. At least five have been reported killed by the hurricane and death tolls are expected to rise dramatically.

Mexico Beach left in ruins by Michael

https://www.yahoo.com/news/gone-mexico-beach-fla-left-ruins-hurricane-michael-153300455.html“It’s gone. It’s gone,” Baldwin said before her cameraman panned to long rows of leveled homes below. “It’s — it’s obliterated.”

At least two people died in the storm, and federal officials fear the death toll could rise as search and rescue crews begin to assess the damage.

Roads to Mexico Beach were virtually impassable, so Baldwin, who spent the night in nearby Destin, Fla., chartered a chopper to get the view from above. Fires could be seen burning in the distance, homes shredded and boats strewn across the town of about 1,100 people.

The President is expected to visit as soon as it’s feasible. Rescue and recovery efforts are already underway.

The most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Florida panhandle came as a surprise to most as it rapidly increased strength overnight just prior to hitting.

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Economy

J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

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J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

NEW YORK (AP) — Johnson & Johnson is forcefully denying a media report that it knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder.

The report Friday by the Reuters news service sent company shares into a tailspin, suffering their worst sell-off in 16 years.

Reuters is citing documents released as part of a lawsuit by plaintiffs claiming that the product can be linked to ovarian cancer. The New Brunswick, New Jersey company has battled in court against such claims and on Friday called the Reuters report, “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

Shares are down more than 9 percent, the most severe decline since 2002.

In the report, Reuters points out that documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in J&J talc. Further reports by the company and outside labs showed similar findings through the early 2000s.

In its statement Friday, Johnson & Johnson said “thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.”

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Senate rebukes Trump, Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi, Yemen war

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Senate rebukes Trump Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi Yemen war

WASHINGTON (AP) — In back-to-back votes against Saudi Arabia, the Senate delivered an unusual rebuke of President Donald Trump’s response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and signaled new skepticism from Capitol Hill toward the longtime Middle East ally.

Although the resolutions are largely symbolic — because it’s unclear if they will be considered by the House — passage Thursday showed senators seeking to assert oversight of Trump administration foreign policy and the relationship with Saudi Arabia.

It also marked the collapse of the Trump administration’s effort in the Senate to contain fallout from the gruesome killing.

One measure recommended that the U.S. end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. The other put the blame for the death of Khashoggi squarely on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both had been vigorously opposed by the Trump administration, threated with potential presidential veto, and top brass was on Capitol Hill ahead of voting to prevent further action in the House.

“The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who opposed the Yemen resolution but called the crown prince “so toxic, so tainted, so flawed” after the Khashoggi’s killing that “you’re never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change.”

The bipartisan votes came two months after the Saudi journalist’s slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and after Trump persistently equivocated over who was responsible. U.S. intelligence officials concluded that bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has repeatedly praised the kingdom.

Senators made clear where they put the blame. The resolution, passed by unanimous agreement, says the Senate believes the crown prince is “responsible for the murder” and calls for the Saudi Arabian government to “ensure appropriate accountability.”

Senators voted 56-41 to recommend that the U.S. stop supporting the war in Yemen, a direct affront to the administration’s war powers abilities.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who co-sponsored the Yemen resolution with Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, called passage a “historic moment.”

Lee said Khashoggi’s death focused attention “on the fact that we have been led into this civil war in Yemen half a world away” and “we’ve done so following the lead” of Saudi Arabia.

“What the Khashoggi event did was to demonstrate, hey, maybe this isn’t a regime that we should just be following that eagerly into battle,” Lee said.

As Senate approval loomed, the administration dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to the House to make the case against the resolutions and warn of damage they could do to the U.S.-Saudi relationship. A congressional aide and an administration official said their appearance was aimed at stopping any House action on the resolutions.

Pompeo and Mattis had made a similar entreaty to the Senate late last month. But it was roundly panned by senators angered by the secretaries’ refusal to accept a CIA determination that assessed the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi’s murder.

CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders Wednesday on the Khashoggi slaying.

The journalist, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.

Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United States “intends to remain a steadfast partner” of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the Saudis for plunging oil prices.

But Graham and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, have rejected Trump’s economic arguments. They are setting the stage for legislation next year that goes further in halting arms sales and taking other measures.

Menendez says economic concerns do not overpower human rights and the U.S. must send a “global message that killing with impunity” will not be tolerated.

Frustration with the crown prince and the White House prompted several Republicans to support the Yemen resolution. Seven Republicans and all Democrats voted for it. Some already had concerns about the war, which human rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, many of them children, to deadly disease and indiscriminate bombing.

The resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s slaying was from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both Republicans opposed the Yemen resolution and voted against it.

McConnell said senators have grave concerns about Khashoggi’s killing, but “we also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.”

But McConnell encouraged passage of the Khashoggi resolution and said it provided “a clear and unambiguous message about how we feel about what happened to this journalist.”

The Senate debate came as the United Nations secretary general on Thursday announced that Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to a province-wide cease-fire and withdrawal of troops in Hodeida, a contested Red Sea port city. The agreement came during peace talks in Sweden.

The brutal four-year-old civil war pits the internationally recognized Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, against the Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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In plea deal, Russian woman admits to being a secret agent

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In plea deal, Russian woman admits to being a secret agent

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Russian woman accused of being a secret agent admitted Thursday that she conspired to infiltrate the American gun-rights movement to gather intelligence on conservative political groups as Donald Trump rose to power.

Maria Butina, 30, agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.

The case, which is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has offered insight into how Moscow seeks to influence American policy.

Prosecutors say Butina and her Russian patron, Alexander Torshin, used their contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives during that campaign, when Republican Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Court documents detail how Butina saw the Republican Party as prime for Russian influence and courted conservatives through networking and contacts with the NRA. She posed for photos with prominent Republicans, including former presidential candidates, and snagged a picture with Donald Trump Jr. at a 2016 NRA dinner.

Butina’s case, brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, comes amid a broader push by the Justice Department to enforce U.S. laws governing foreign agents, including those accused of working for Russia.

As part of her deal, Butina pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and she agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Prosecutors say it is “very likely” she will be deported from the U.S. after her sentence is completed. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defense noted Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months. She has been jailed since her arrest in July.

According to her plea agreement, Butina’s work was directed by Torshin, a former longtime member of the Russian parliament who until recently was an official in Russia’s central bank. He is now under sanction by the Treasury Department for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Butina, dressed in green jail scrubs with her red hair pulled into a long ponytail, acknowledged she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.” She admitted that her boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, helped her as she tried to use his ties with the NRA to set up the back channels. Erickson, who is referred to as “U.S. Person 1″ in court papers, has not been charged. His attorney said he is a good American who “has done nothing to harm our country and never would.”

In a 2015 proposal she crafted with Erickson’s help, Butina argued it was unlikely Russia would be able to exert influence using official channels and, as an alternative, suggested using back channel communications to build relationships with Republicans, according to court papers.

Pushing her travel to the U.S. and her work with the NRA as selling points, Butina argued that she had already “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.” She asked for $125,000 from an unnamed Russian billionaire to attend conferences in the U.S. and meet with people who she thought may have influence with the Republican Party and sent the proposal to Torshin. He responded by telling her the proposal would “be supported, at least in part,” according to court documents.

Torshin also asked Butina to help justify him attending a national NRA meeting in 2016 and Butina encouraged his attendance “partly because of the opportunity to meet political candidates,” according to her plea agreement. In addition to attending numerous NRA events, Butina also organized “friendship dinners” in Washington with influential political figures.

In their filings, prosecutors have said federal agents found Butina had contact information for people suspected of working for Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB. Inside her home, they found notes referring to a potential job offer from the FSB, according to the documents.

Investigators recovered several emails and Twitter message conversations in which Butina referred to the need to keep her work secret and, in one instance, said it should be “incognito.” Prosecutors said Butina had contact with Russian intelligence officials and that the FBI photographed her dining with a diplomat suspected of being a Russian intelligence agent.

Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, had previously decried the charges against her as “overblown” and said prosecutors criminalized her mundane networking opportunities. He said Butina was a student interested in American politics and wanted to see a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

On Thursday, prosecutors also appeared to have backed off their assertion that Butina’s attendance at American University was little more than a cover to enter the U.S. In their filing, prosecutors said “all available evidence” indicated she had a genuine interest in a graduate school education.

Butina had mounted an aggressive defense and tried to have the charges against her tossed. But for several weeks, Butina’s lawyers and federal prosecutors had indicated in court papers that they were working toward a resolution in the case.

After Butina’s plea, a senior Russian lawmaker said he was convinced that Butina had caved and was pressured to confess. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, told Russian news agencies that the charges against Butina had been trumped up and that she fell victim to what he called “political inquisition.”

“They broke her down. Anyone would break down in circumstances like that,” he said, referring to Butina’s time in prison, which included being held in administrative segregation.

Butina told the judge on Thursday that she was pleading guilty of her own volition and was not pressured, threatened or coerced.

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Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.

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Read the plea agreement: http://apne.ws/qHA37wM

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