Associated Press Briefs

Trump on his Puerto Rico response: ‘I’d say it was a 10’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump gave himself a “10” on Thursday for his response to the widespread devastation Puerto Rico suffered after back-to-back hurricanes created a situation that the island’s governor described as “catastrophic” as he met with Trump at the White House.

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More than 80 percent of households in Puerto Rico remain without electricity about a month after Hurricane Maria, the second storm, dealt the island a severe blow. Asked when the 3.4 million U.S. citizens living there could expect power to be fully restored, Trump replied: “It’s a very, very good question, actually.”

Trump said it will take “a while” to build a new power plant or substantially renovate what was damaged by the storms. The president said most of the power that exists is being supplied by the “massive numbers” of generators he sent to the island.

“There’s never been a case where power plants were gone,” Trump said, seated alongside Gov. Ricardo Rossello in the Oval Office. “So it’s going to be a period of time before the electric is restored.”

Pentagon faces demands for details on deadly attack in Niger

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress demanded answers Thursday two weeks after an ambush in the African nation of Niger killed four U.S. soldiers, with one top lawmaker even threatening subpoenas. The White House defended the slow pace of information, saying an investigation would eventually offer clarity about a tragedy that has morphed into a political dispute in the United States.

Among the unresolved inquiries: Why were the Americans apparently caught by surprise? Why did it take two additional days to recover one of the four bodies after the shooting stopped? Was the Islamic State responsible?

The confusion over what happened in a remote corner of Niger, where few Americans travel, has increasingly dogged President Donald Trump, who was silent about the deaths for more than a week.

Asked why, Trump on Monday turned the topic into a political tussle by crediting himself with doing more to honor the dead and console their families than any of his predecessors. His subsequent boast that he reaches out personally to all families of the fallen was contradicted by interviews with family members, some of whom had not heard from Trump at all.

And then the aunt of an Army sergeant killed in Niger, who raised the soldier as her son, said Wednesday that Trump had shown “disrespect” to the soldier’s loved ones as he telephoned to extend condolences while they were driving to the Miami airport to receive his body. Sgt. La David Johnson was one of the four Americans killed Oct. 4 in southwest Niger; Trump called the families of all four Tuesday.

California fires cause $1B in damage, burn 7,000 buildings

SAN FRANCISCO — The wildfires that have devastated Northern California this month caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property, officials said Thursday, as authorities increased the count of homes and other buildings destroyed to nearly 7,000.

Both numbers were expected to rise as crews continued assessing areas scorched by the blazes that killed 42 people, a total that makes it the deadliest series of fires in state history.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the preliminary dollar valuation of losses came from claims filed with the eight largest insurance companies in the affected areas and did not include uninsured property.

The loss total was expected to climb “probably dramatically so,” Jones told reporters, making it likely the fires also would become the costliest in California’s history.

Senators push for more online transparency in elections

WASHINGTON — Senators are moving to boost transparency for online political ads, unveiling on Thursday what could be the first of several pieces of legislation to try to lessen influence from Russia or other foreign actors on U.S. elections.

The bill by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would require social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to keep public files of election ads and meet the same disclaimer requirements as political broadcast and print advertising. Federal regulations now require television and radio stations to make publicly available the details of political ads they air. That includes who runs the ad, when it runs and how much it costs.

The bill also would require companies to “make reasonable efforts” to ensure that election ads are not purchased directly or indirectly by a foreign national. The move comes after Facebook revealed that ads that ran on the company’s social media platform and have been linked to a Russian internet agency were seen by an estimated 10 million people before and after the 2016 election.

From wire sources

Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 race, and Klobuchar is the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees elections. The legislation also has support from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers on the Senate intelligence panel and other committees investigating Russian influence have said one of the main roles of Congress will be to pass legislation to try to stop the foreign meddling. That’s in contrast to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is also investigating and has the ability to prosecute if he finds any criminal wrongdoing.

Bipartisan plan to curb health premiums gets strong support

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan proposal to calm churning health insurance markets gained momentum Thursday when enough lawmakers rallied behind it to give it potentially unstoppable Senate support. But its fate remained unclear as some Republicans sought changes that could threaten Democratic backing.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said their plan had 24 sponsors, divided evenly between both parties, for resuming federal subsidies to insurers. Trump has blocked the money and without it, insurers are already raising premiums for many buying individual coverage and could flee unprofitable markets.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said all 48 Democrats — including two independents who support them — would back the measure in a vote. That meant that combined with the dozen GOP sponsors there would be 60 votes for the plan, the number needed to overcome a filibuster, a delaying tactic meant to kill legislation.

“Every Democrat’s voting for it. Do the math, baby,” an exultant Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.

The politically compelling arithmetic raises pressure on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s been noncommittal so far, to let the Senate consider the legislation. A McConnell spokesman offered no new statement from him.

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Study: World pollution deadlier than wars, disasters, hunger

NEW DELHI (AP) — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

One out of every six premature deaths in the world in 2015 — about 9 million — could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure, according to a major study released Thursday in The Lancet medical journal. The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness and welfare is equally massive, the report says, costing some $4.6 trillion in annual losses — or about 6.2 percent of the global economy.

“There’s been a lot of study of pollution, but it’s never received the resources or level of attention as, say, AIDS or climate change,” said epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and the lead author on the report.

The report marks the first attempt to pull together data on disease and death caused by all forms of pollution combined.

“Pollution is a massive problem that people aren’t seeing because they’re looking at scattered bits of it,” Landrigan said.

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US: Laptops in checked bags pose fire, explosion risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government is urging the world airline community to ban large, personal electronic devices like laptops from checked luggage because of the potential for a catastrophic fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a paper filed recently with a U.N. agency that its tests show that when a laptop’s rechargeable lithium-ion battery overheats in close proximity to an aerosol spray can, it can cause an explosion capable of disabling an airliner’s fire suppression system. The fire could then rage unchecked, leading to “the loss of the aircraft,” the paper said.

The U.N. agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, sets global aviation safety standards, although member countries must still ratify them. The proposed ban is on the agenda of a meeting of ICAO’s panel on dangerous goods being held this week and next week in Montreal.

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The FAA has conducted 10 tests involving a fully-charged laptop packed in a suitcase. A heater was placed against the laptop’s battery to force it into “thermal runaway,” a condition in which the battery’s temperature continually rises.

In one test, an 8-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo —which is permitted in checked baggage — was strapped to the laptop. There was a fire almost immediately and it grew rapidly. The aerosol can exploded within 40 seconds.