AP News in Brief 12-23-18

  • The Capitol is seen on the first morning of a partial government shutdown, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers are at a standoff with President Donald Trump on spending for his border wall. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US envoy to anti-IS coalition quits over Trump’s Syria move

WASHINGTON — Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, has resigned in protest over President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a U.S. official said, joining Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in an administration exodus of experienced national security figures.

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Only 11 days ago, McGurk had said it would be “reckless” to consider IS defeated and therefore would be unwise to bring American forces home. McGurk decided to speed up his original plan to leave his post in mid-February.

Appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2015 and retained by Trump, McGurk said in his resignation letter that the militants were on the run, but not yet defeated, and that the premature pullout of American forces from Syria would create the conditions that gave rise to IS. He also cited gains in accelerating the campaign against IS, but that the work was not yet done.

His letter, submitted Friday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was described to The Associated Press on Saturday by an official familiar with its contents. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter before the letter was released and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a tweet shortly after news of McGurk’s resignation broke, Trump again defended his decision to pull all of the roughly 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria in the coming weeks.

Tsunami triggered by volcano kills at least 43 in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A tsunami apparently caused by the eruption of an island volcano killed at least 43 people after the waves hit the coast around Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, sending a wall of water some 65 feet (20 meters) inland and damaging hundreds of houses including hotels, the government and witnesses said.

Some 600 people have been reported injured.

Scientists from Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics agency said it could have been caused by undersea landslides from the eruption of Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island formed over years from the nearby Krakatau volcano. They also cited tidal waves caused by the full moon.

“I had to run, as the wave passed the beach and landed 15-20m (meters) inland,” Øystein Lund Andersen wrote on Facebook. He said he was taking pictures of the volcano when he suddenly saw a big wave come toward him.

“Next wave entered the hotel area where I was staying and downed cars on the road behind it. Managed to evacuate with my family to higher ground trough forest paths and villages, where we are taken care of (by) the locals. Were unharmed, thankfully.”

Analysis: Trump, Republicans flirting with a political split

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party, always a marriage of convenience, is showing signs of serious strain.

The president threatened his bond with virtually every GOP constituency this past week.

His move to withdraw troops from Syria led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and left Washington’s Republican foreign policy establishment aghast, drawing unusual criticism from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., normally a Trump ally.

Trump’s initial openness to a government funding bill that didn’t include money for his much-heralded border wall with Mexico infuriated conservatives, including the talk radio and cable television personalities who often shower the president with praise. By pushing the government into a partial shutdown with no clear strategy out, Trump frustrated the rest of his party, which was hoping for a holiday break from Trump-driven dramas.

The divergent plotlines had a common theme: Trump’s rejection of his party’s counsel as he looks once again to rely on his own instincts to guide his political future.

Partial government shutdown likely to extend past Christmas

WASHINGTON — The federal government was expected to remain partially shut down past Christmas as the standoff deepened Saturday over President Donald Trump’s demand for funds to build a border wall with Mexico.

With Trump’s insistence on $5 billion for the wall and negotiations with Democrats in Congress far from a breakthrough, even a temporary measure to keep the government running while talks continued seemed out of reach until the Senate returned for a full session Thursday.

From coast to coast, the first day of the shutdown played out in uneven ways. The Statue of Liberty was still open for tours, thanks to funding from New York state, and the U.S. Post Office was still delivering mail, as an independent agency.

In Arizona, the Grand Canyon was remaining open with state funding, the governor said. But visitors arriving at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico could check out only the surface, not the underground cavern that is the park’s main attraction. The memorial to Oklahoma City bombing victims was to continue to operate, but the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center at College Station, Texas, said its National Archives facilities were closed during the shutdown.

Yet the disruption affected many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid. An additional 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay.

From wire sources

The Senate had already passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay, and the House was likely to follow suit.

Connected cars accelerate down data-collection highway

SAN FRANCISCO — That holiday trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house could turn into nice little gift for automakers as they increasingly collect oodles and oodles of data about the driver.

Automakers are collecting valuable pieces of information thanks to the internet connections, cameras and sensors built into most vehicles in recent years. The online access makes it possible for cars to be unlocked remotely if the keys are lost. It’s how safety features can be upgraded wirelessly and maintenance schedules adjusted based on performance.

But these digital peepholes are also offering a windshield-size view of people’s lives. That’s creating the potential for intrusive marketing pitches and government surveillance.

No serious incidents have occurred in the United States, Europe and Japan, but a red flag has already been raised in China, where automakers have been sharing location details of connected cars with the government.

“We are not that far away from when 100 percent of all new cars will come equipped with data modems,” Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid predicted. “Having the potential to collect more data about people in their cars means there is going to be potential for abuses, too.”

Oklahoma quickly becoming medical marijuana hotbed

OKLAHOMA CITY — The rollout of statewide medical and recreational marijuana programs typically is a grindingly slow process that can take years. Not so in Oklahoma, which moved with lightning speed once voters approved medical cannabis in June.

The ballot question received 57 percent support and established one of the nation’s most liberal medical pot laws in one of the most conservative states. Six months later, the cannabis industry is booming.

Farmers and entrepreneurs are racing to start commercial grow operations, and the state is issuing licenses to new patients, growers and dispensary operators at a frantic pace. Retail outlets opened just four months after legalization.

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By contrast, voters in North Dakota, Ohio and neighboring Arkansas approved medical pot in 2016 but have yet to see sales begin amid legal wrangling and legislative meddling.

“I think we really are the wild, wild West in many respects,” said attorney Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, whose firm in Norman represents several cannabis businesses. “Here in Oklahoma, we’re a pretty independent constituency. We are primarily a red state, but we don’t like a lot of government controls.”