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October 30, 2017 - 12:05am

Trump comes ahead with fresh criticism of Russia inquiry

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump expressed renewed frustration Sunday over the investigations into alleged ties between his campaign associates and Russian government officials, saying on Twitter that the “facts are pouring out” about links to Russia by his former presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“DO SOMETHING!” Trump urged in one of five morning tweets.

Trump’s tweets followed a CNN report late Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first charges in a criminal investigation into Russia ties led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The Associated Press has not confirmed the CNN report.

Ty Cobb, a member of Trump’s legal team, said the president was not referring to CNN’s reporting.

It will be a tale of 2 countries as open enrollment begins

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act have health care advocates and insurers concerned that the open enrollment period will be one of chaos and confusion.

That’s not true everywhere.

A dozen states operate their own health insurance marketplaces, maintaining control over advertising and the help they can offer consumers. That will create a striking difference when open enrollment begins Wednesday between those states and the others that rely on the federal marketplace, essentially creating a tale of two countries.

For the individual health insurance market in much of the country, the Trump administration has slashed spending on advertising by 90 percent and drastically reduced budgets for the groups that help consumers choose a plan.

From wire sources

It cut the open enrollment period in half, to six weeks. Shortening the sign-up window further, the federal government will shut down its online marketplace, healthcare.gov, for 12 hours of maintenance nearly every Sunday during open enrollment.

Full recovery from California wildfires may take years

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — It will take at least months and likely years to fully recover from devastating wildfires that ripped through Northern California earlier this month, destroying at least 8,900 structures and killing 42 people, Sonoma County officials said Saturday.

“We don’t control these things, and it makes you realize how small you are in the world when something like this happens,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said. “I don’t think we understand the level at which it is going to impact lives, and the community will be different.”

Giordano spoke before hundreds of people gathered at a college in Santa Rosa, one of the hardest-hit cities, for a memorial service to honor the lives lost in the deadliest series of wildfires in California history. The fires sparked Oct. 8, eventually forcing 100,000 people to evacuate.

Before a bell rung 42 times to commemorate the dead, Giordano and other officials praised the ordinary and extraordinary acts of heroism by first responders and community members as the firefight raged on for more than a week. Some firefighters worked days on the front line, refusing to take breaks, while sheriff’s dispatchers continued taking calls even as the fire came close to taking out their building.

“The night of Oct. 8, we were all tested,” Santa Rosa fire Chief Tony Gossner said.

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‘Penance’: NC congressman writes to families of dead troops

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — On a Sunday morning more than two weeks after four U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed in Niger, Rep. Walter Jones sat at the desk in his North Carolina office, doing what he’s done more than 11,000 times in 14 years: signing letters to families of the dead troops.

“My heart aches as I write this letter for I realize you are suffering a great loss,” the letter begins.

It’s a form letter, but the Republican congressman signs each one personally — penance, he says, for voting yes for the Iraq war in 2002.

“For me, it’s a sacred responsibility that I have to communicate my condolences to a family,” Jones said in a telephone interview. “And it’s very special to me because it goes back to my regretting that I voted to go into the Iraq war.”

While President Donald Trump and his staff feuded publicly this month with a congresswoman and the pregnant widow of a soldier killed Oct. 4 in Niger, Jones was quietly continuing his letter writing.

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Their caliphate in ruins, IS militants melt into the desert

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants, routed from one urban stronghold after another in Syria, have recently been moving deeper into Syria’s remote desert, where experts say they are regrouping and preparing their next incarnation.

The Sunni militants’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” with its contiguous stretch of land — linking major cities such as Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul — may have been vanquished, but many agree this territorial defeat will not mark the end of IS.

Beyond the urban and inhabited areas lies the vast Syrian Desert, also known as Badiyat al-Sham, famous for its caves and rugged mountains. It encompasses about 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) across parts of southeastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq.

The desolate landscape is a perfect hideout and a second home for many IS militants from the days before the birth of their caliphate. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to mount search operations — and even more to put the desert under permanent control.

Once they melt into the desert, without an army of tens of thousands of supporters from dozens of countries, IS jihadis will resort to guerrilla-style attacks: scattered hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings.

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Pro-independence Catalans: ‘I’ve never felt Spanish’

GIRONA, Spain (AP) — To sense the conflicting currents of identity that have led Spain to the edge of a constitutional cliff, look no farther than Girona, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Barcelona. Maps and world governments say it’s in Spain — but many residents consider it part of an independent republic of Catalonia.

Amid the party atmosphere of a festival weekend, many in this secessionist stronghold cheered the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence from Spain, a country they don’t regard as their own.

“I’ve never felt Spanish in my life,” said graphic designer Anna Faure as Girona celebrated the annual festival of its patron saint with food, music, a carnival and displays of the gravity-defying sport of human towers, known as castells.

Faure says castells is a true Catalan tradition, a view she doesn’t hold about Spanish icons such as bullfighting, which Catalan authorities have tried to ban, or Flamenco, an import from Andalucia in southern Spain.

Flamenco is fine, she said, but “it’s not mine.”

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