Russia probe under threat, Democrats say

The US inquiry into alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 election could be under threat after President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, top opposition Democrats say.

Nancy Pelosi, who leads Democrats in the House of Representatives, called the decision a “blatant attempt” to end or impede the investigation.

The probe has been criticised by Mr Sessions’s successor Matthew Whitaker.

The Democrats, who won the House in the mid-terms, have vowed to protect it.

Some Republicans appear to have shared the Democrats’ concern over the future of the inquiry, which is being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Senator Susan Collins and Mitt Romney said it should not be impeded in any way.

Mr Mueller is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, resulting in a series of criminal charges against several Trump associates.

Mr Trump has vehemently denied any collusion took place, and repeatedly called for the inquiry to be shut down, calling it “the greatest political witch hunt in history”.

Democrats see this latest move as an attempt to do just that.

“It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine and end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Ms Pelosi – a front-runner to become speaker of the House of Representatives following this week’s mid-terms – tweeted.

She went on to argue that, “given his record of threats to undermine and weaken the Russia investigation”, Mr Whitaker should follow in Mr Sessions’ footsteps and recuse himself.

Her words were echoed by Democratic party Senate leader Chuck Schumer, who added: “Clearly, the president has something to hide.”

Why was Sessions fired?

The sacking followed months of Mr Trump criticising Mr Sessions, mainly for his decision to step aside from the Russia inquiry in March 2017.

Mr Sessions removed himself from the probe after Democrats accused him of failing to disclose contacts he had had with the Russian ambassador as a senior adviser to Mr Trump’s campaign.

In July 2017 Mr Trump told the New York Times: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”

In a resignation letter, Mr Sessions – a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Mr Trump – made clear the decision to go was not his own.

“Dear Mr President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” he wrote in an undated letter.

What happens now?

Mr Whitaker can now assume control of the Mueller inquiry, which has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein until now.

The president cannot directly fire the special counsel. But Mr Sessions’s replacement will have the power to do so, or end the inquiry.

Mr Whitaker expressed concerns over the investigation. In August 2017, he wrote a piece for CNN in which he stated that looking into Mr Trump’s personal finances, or those of his family, “goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel”.

He went on to call on Mr Rosenstein to “order Mueller to limit the scope of the investigation” or risk the inquiry starting “to look like a political fishing expedition”.

The deputy attorney general appointed Mr Mueller to lead the inquiry after Mr Trump fired FBI director James Comey in 2017.

The special counsel has also been investigating whether Mr Comey’s firing amounted to obstruction of justice.

There has also been a question mark over Mr Rosenstein’s future since it was alleged that he had discussed invoking a constitutional clause to oust President Trump.

What does this mean for the Mueller probe?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC Washington

There had already been hints that Robert Mueller’s pre-election “quiet period” was about to come to an end. And, in fact, if the former FBI director is as meticulous as he’s reputed to be, he might have already made plans to deal with exactly this contingency.

That’s stepping into the unknown, however.

What’s certain is that if the special counsel tries to issue new indictments or expand his inquiry, Matthew Whitaker is now in a position to rebuff those requests. If Mr Mueller files a report detailing his conclusions, the new acting attorney general could keep the document from ever becoming public.

Those would be half-measures and insurance policies to limit damage. The president may also decide to instruct Mr Whitaker to fire the entire Mueller team – something Mr Trump says he has the power to do.

There’s some doubt about whether the president is right, but with the mid-terms behind him he could be itching to settle this Mueller business once and for all. And he’s one step closer to being able to do just that.

That almost certainly wouldn’t be the end of this story, but it’s the beginning of a new, fraught chapter.

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Thousand Oaks, Jeff Sessions, Jim Acosta: Your Thursday Briefing

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

Here’s what you need to know:

Developing: Deadly mass shooting at California bar

At least 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy, were killed late Wednesday in a shooting at a country and western dance hall in Thousand Oaks, Calif., officials said.

The gunman is also dead, officials said, adding that there was no longer a threat to the public after the shooting at the dance hall, the Borderline Bar and Grill, which was holding an event for college students.

The location: Thousand Oaks, a relatively affluent city in Ventura County, is about 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Critic of Russia inquiry now oversees it

President Trump replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday with Matthew Whitaker, who has questioned the scope of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Sessions, who resigned at the president’s request, recused himself in March 2017 from overseeing the investigation, citing his role in Mr. Trump’s campaign. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has been overseeing the inquiry.

As acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker now has that responsibility. He has said that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, would be going too far if he examined the Trump family finances.

Profile: Mr. Whitaker, Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff and a former U.S. attorney, has been forging ties to the White House, where he is seen as a reliable ally.

Looking back: Mr. Sessions helped promote Mr. Trump’s agenda, particularly on immigration and in addressing violent crime and opioids, but his recusal from the Russia investigation cost him the president’s support.

What’s next: One of our Washington correspondents answered questions about the implications of Mr. Sessions’s firing.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Why Trump Is Firing Sessions Now

A new era of divided government

A day after his party lost control of the House, President Trump threatened to adopt a “warlike posture” if Democrats used their new power to investigate his financial and political dealings.

He made his remarks at a news conference that started with an offer to work across party lines. He went on to scold reporters whose questions or behavior he didn’t like, including Jim Acosta of CNN, whose White House credentials were suspended by the end of the day.

The House: Democrats made gains by focusing on health care, while Republicans lost their grip on unity and messaging, our correspondents write.

The Senate: Republican wins have strengthened the influence of social conservatives, who are seeking to push harder to the right on issues including abortion.

Election firsts: There will be at least 100 women in the House next year. Here are some others who made history on Tuesday.

Too close to call: Several races, including the one for Georgia governor, have yet to be decided.

Partisan picks: Writers from across the political spectrum discuss the midterm elections.

Stalled diplomacy with North Korea

The goal of talks scheduled for today had been to plan a second summit meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

But the State Department announced on Wednesday that the meeting between Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and a top North Korean official had been canceled.

Mixed messages: Mr. Trump later said that the meeting would be rescheduled and that “we’re very happy with how it’s going with North Korea.”

Business

What might Democratic control of the House mean for your wallet? Tax-overhaul initiatives could be blocked, but there may be room for agreement on other measures. Here’s a breakdown.

Tesla named Robyn Denholm, an Australian telecommunications executive, as its new chairwoman, as it tries to move beyond regulatory problems and concerns about Elon Musk’s leadership. Mr. Musk will remain chief executive.

Google is in discussions to move into an office complex on Manhattan’s West Side that could allow it to more than double its local work force of 7,000.

Canada is running low on legal marijuana three weeks after recreational use of the drug became legal. The shortage is sending some frustrated consumers back to the black market.

AbeBooks, a secondhand bookselling network owned by Amazon, bowed to a worldwide strike of antiquarian booksellers, appearing to reverse its largely unexplained decision to cut off stores in five countries.

U.S. stocks were up on Wednesday. Here’s a snapshot of global markets today.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Take charge of your medical care. Be your own advocate.

Essential gear for solo travel.

Recipe of the day: Fans of sweet potatoes will love them mashed with bourbon and brown sugar.

Noteworthy

Improving subway-speak

New York City’s subway conductors don’t make up the things they say. They follow scripts, and those scripts are about to be revised. We look at the differences.

Curated by Wes Anderson

The filmmaker and his partner, Juman Malouf, were given free rein to create an exhibition of the treasures in Austria’s largest museum. But you can’t make an exhibition as you would a movie, our critic writes.

Still the King

“Elevation,” the latest by Stephen King, is No. 1 on our hardcover fiction list. His previous book, “The Outsider,” debuted in the top spot in June. You can find all of our best-seller lists here.

A new urban jungle

In a world of climate change, and Instagram, plant influencers are eager to help you create a biome of your own.

Here’s more from this week’s Style section.

Best of late-night TV

The comedy hosts bid goodbye to the former attorney general: “No word what Jeff Sessions is going to do next; I assume he’s going to spend more time with his family-separation policy,” Stephen Colbert said.

Quotation of the day

“The further you get from metropolitan areas, the more powerful Donald Trump is and the more allegiance there is to whatever he says and does.”

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of three red-state Senate Democrats swept out of office on Tuesday.

The Times, in other words

Here’s an image of today’s front page, and links to our Opinion content and crossword puzzles.

What we’re reading

Jan Hoffman, a health behaviors reporter, recommends this piece from The New Yorker: “Oklahoma has the country’s highest rate of incarceration for women, and 85 percent are mothers. Here’s a meticulously observed, harrowing chronicle about Still She Rises, a feminist legal squad from New York City that relocates to bright red Tulsa, intending to battle for these women and the children who’ve been separated from them.”

Back Story

“It’ll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” an adventurer exclaims in the 1933 film “King Kong.”

Eighty-five years later, a $35 million musical version with the big ape officially opens in New York tonight.

Before the movie was released, the excitement was palpable, even if newspapers didn’t exactly know what would be happening. “The film will show prehistoric monsters fighting one another and making weird sounds,” The Times wrote in 1933.

It was easy to see why the movie would be popular. The stop-motion special effects were groundbreaking, although film scholars saw thinly veiled racist overtones.

Nevertheless, the Times reviewer was enthralled: “Imagine a 50-foot beast with a girl in one paw climbing up the outside of the Empire State Building.”

The movie, starring Fay Wray as the beauty who charms the beast, was among the first to be shown at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, shortly after the 6,200-seat theater was converted to show films.

A box office hit, the movie was rereleased periodically and has featured in numerous remakes.

In the original, Kong was an 18-inch puppet. In the new Broadway production, the ape is 20 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds. Not bad for the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Kathleen Massara wrote today’s Back Story.

_____

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Opinion | The Midterm Results Are a Warning to the Democrats

For months we’ve heard from sundry media apocalypticians that this year’s midterms were the last exit off the road to autocracy. On Tuesday, the American people delivered a less dramatic verdict about the significance of the occasion.

In a word: meh.

Are you interested in seeing Donald Trump voted out of office in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elections were, at most, a very modest rebuke of a president reviled by many of his opponents, this columnist included, as an unprecedented danger to the health of liberal democracy at home and abroad. The American people don’t entirely agree.

We might consider listening to them a bit more — and to ourselves somewhat less.

The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.

It also underscores that while “the Resistance” is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats. Liberals are free to bellyache all they want that they have repeatedly won the overall popular vote for the presidency and Congress while still losing elections, and that the system is therefore “rigged.”

But that’s the system in which everyone’s playing — and one they had no trouble winning in until just a few years ago. To complain about it makes them sound like whiners in a manner reminiscent of Trump in 2016, when he thought he was going to lose. It’s also a reminder that, in politics, intensity is not strategy. You have to be able to convert.

The Resistance didn’t convert.

It didn’t convert when it nominated left-wing candidates in right-leaning states like Florida and Georgia. It didn’t convert when it poured its money into where its heart was — a lithesome Texas hopeful with scant chance of victory — rather than where the dollars were most needed. It didn’t convert when it grew more concerned with the question of how much Trump did not pay in taxes than with the question of how much you pay in taxes.

It didn’t convert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court the decisive political test of the year. It didn’t convert when it turned his initial confirmation hearing into a circus. It didn’t convert when media liberals repeatedly violated ordinary journalistic standards by reporting the uncorroborated accusations against Kavanaugh that followed Christine Blasey Ford’s.

Above all, it didn’t convert the unconverted.

It doesn’t take a lot to get the average voter to tell you what he doesn’t like about Donald Trump: the nastiness, the divisiveness, the lying, the tweeting, the chaos, the epic boastfulness matched by bottomless self-pity. As my colleague Frank Bruni has astutely observed, Trump is as transparent as they come: You don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to know that the president is an insecure narcissist with daddy issues.

Then again, what does the average voter think about the people who pompously style themselves “the Resistance”? I don’t just mean the antifa thugs and restaurant hecklers and the Farrakhan Fan Club wing of the women’s movement, though that’s a part of it.

I mean the rest of the Trump despisers, the people who detest not only the man but also contemn his voters (and constantly let them know it); the ones who heard the words “basket of deplorables” and said to themselves: Bingo. They measure their moral worth not through an effort at understanding but by the intensity of their disdain. They are — so they think — always right, yet often surprised by events.

I was a charter member of this camp. Intellectual honesty ought to compel us to admit that we achieved precisely the opposite of what we intended. Trumpism is more entrenched today than ever. The result of the midterms means, if nothing else, that the president survived his first major political test more than adequately. And unless Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on favorite to win in 2020.

To repeat: I’d hate to see that happen. I want Trump, and Trumpism, to lose. But if the Resistance party doesn’t find a way to become a shrewder, humbler opposition party, that’s not going to happen. The day Democrats take charge in the House would be a good opportunity to stop manning imaginary barricades, and start building real bridges to the other America.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram, join the Facebook political discussion group, Voting While Female, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT Facebook

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British PM Theresa May dives into diplomacy in bid to clinch Brexit deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS (REUTERS) – British Prime Minister Theresa May steps up attempts to court European support for a draft Brexit deal on Thursday (Nov 8) as negotiations on securing a smooth British divorce from the world’s biggest trading bloc enter their final stages.

She will meet three other European Union leaders in Brussels at a Nato dinner on Thursday and have lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.

EU officials and diplomats tried to play down speculation on an imminent deal after an Austrian newspaper report that a deal could be reached “in the coming days” sent the pound higher.

Some diplomats said they felt more optimistic than earlier in the week about seeing a deal completed this month. But one senior EU official told Reuters: “A deal is certainly not done. There’s a bit of progress on the backstop but we’ve no idea if it will fly in London. Both sides are still talking, which is good, but we haven’t been told that a deal is imminent.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, whose country insists on a “backstop” clause to avoid disruption on its land border with the British province of Northern Ireland, said “not by a long shot” should an imminent breakthrough be taken for granted.

Even a deal among Mrs May and her fractious ministers would not necessarily mean the EU would fall in line, he said.

For their part, British officials weighed in also, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying to get a deal within seven days was “probably pushing it” and a government source saying that Mrs May would probably not gather her Cabinet until next week.

Nonetheless, with both sides believing a deal must be done in the coming weeks to ensure a smooth withdrawal in March, talks have become intense. Mrs May’s interior minister Sajid Javid said: “Clearly we’re in the closing stages… The next few days, the next couple of weeks, they will be very important.”

Speculation of an imminent deal, after months of deadlock over trade arrangements that could keep the Irish border open, mounted as Mrs May’s office announced she would meet several European leaders over dinner in Brussels on Thursday.

Few officials had been aware in advance, though Mrs May had been expected in the Belgian town of Mons on Friday morning for an event marking the centenary of the end of World War I.

The Nato dinner, hosted by the US-led military alliance’s Norwegian secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and including only the Dutch, Belgian and Romanian leaders, is not in itself a forum to talk about Brexit.

But being in Brussels could be a chance to see EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, his boss European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, the summit chair who will have to call EU leaders together to endorse any deal when it is done.

After the commemoration in Mons on Friday, Mrs May is due to meet President Emmanuel Macron in France for further events.

Less than five months before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, a deal is 95 per cent done. But officials have repeatedly cautioned they are still haggling over the backstop.

The EU wants to see a breakthrough within a week if leaders are to endorse any Brexit deal in November, official and diplomatic sources told Reuters. An EU summit tentatively scheduled for Nov 17-18 is no longer on the cards.

After Mrs May discussed Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU summit chair Tusk this week, British ministers were shown the text of a deal which is 95 per cent agreed.

The deal – or the lack of one – will shape Britain’s prosperity for generations to come and have long-term consequences for the European Union’s global clout.

Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy. The other 27 members of the EU combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

Ever since the shock 2016 Brexit referendum sent the sterling to its biggest one-day fall in decades, the pound has been see-sawing on differing perceptions of whether a deal will be done.

Mrs May told her Cabinet on Tuesday that more time was needed to clear the final hurdle standing between her and a deal: the plan to ensure no hard border emerges on the island of Ireland.

Some of her senior ministers, such as Brexiteer Michael Gove, want to see the verdict of British government lawyers on how a post-Brexit plan for Northern Ireland’s border might work. A Northern Irish political party, the DUP, which props up Mrs May’s minority government, wants the advice to be published in full.

Mrs May wants a deal – both on a withdrawal agreement and a framework for future ties – before year-end as she must get the deal approved by the British Parliament. The EU holds a regular summit on Dec 13-14.

“We are not there yet. The clock is ticking. The choices need to be made now on the UK side,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters on Wednesday.

If Mrs May fails to clinch a Brexit deal with the EU, or Parliament votes down her deal, then Britain would face leaving without a divorce deal, and thus without a transition period.

Many business chiefs and investors fear such a “no-deal” Brexit would weaken the West, panic financial markets and block the arteries of trade.

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Tesla appoints Robyn Denholm as chair to replace Elon Musk

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said board member Robyn Denholm will replace Elon Musk as its chair, more than a month after the billionaire had to step down as the electric-car maker’s chairman as part of a settlement with U.S. regulators.

Tesla had until Nov. 13 to name an independent board chairman under its agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which said Musk’s tweets about taking the company private were fraudulent and that the billionaire should quit as chairman but could retain his role as CEO.

Musk, who has been on Tesla’s board since 2004, tweeted in August he was considering taking the company private for $420 per share and had secured funding for a deal that was later scuttled but attracted scrutiny from several government agencies.

The appointment of Denholm caps months of turbulence for the company and its stock as investors called for stronger oversight of Musk, whose erratic public behavior raised concerns about his ability to steer the company through a rocky phase of growth.

Denholm is currently chief financial officer at Australian telecoms operator Telstra Corp Ltd (TLS.AX) and has been an independent director on Tesla’s nine-member board since 2014.

Denholm takes over as Tesla’s chair immediately and will leave her role as CFO and head of strategy at Telstra once her six-month notice period with the company is complete, Tesla said bit.ly/2D92OGf late on Wednesday. She was appointed as Telstra’s CFO in July. (reut.rs/2PiVX4k)

Tesla said Denholm, one of the two women on its board, will serve as chair on a full-time basis and will temporarily step down as chair of the company’s audit committee until she leaves Telstra.

“Would like to thank Robyn for joining the team. Great respect. Very much look forward to working together,” Musk tweeted here early on Thursday.

The Financial Times had in October reported that outgoing Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O) Chief Executive James Murdoch was the lead candidate for the job, citing two people briefed on discussions. Musk later tweeted that this was “incorrect.”

Murdoch is also an independent director on Tesla’s board.

The carmaker last month quieted some critics after it reported a net profit and positive cash flow in the third quarter as higher production volumes of its crucial Model 3 sedan began to pay off, delivering on Musk’s promise to turn the company profitable.

A Tesla spokeswoman said Denholm would receive an annual cash retainer of $300,000 and 8,000 stock options annually.

The spokeswoman also said Tesla was actively looking for two additional independent directors.

(This story corrects to say Musk has been on the board since 2004, not 2014, in third paragraph)

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European shares hit one-month high as banks, Sodexo shine

LONDON (Reuters) – European shares rallied to one-month highs on Thursday, extending gains following the U.S. midterm elections, as strong results from SocGen and Commerzbank and France’s Sodexo soothed concerns about slowing corporate earnings.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was up 0.6 percent at 0854 GMT, extending the previous session’s gains and after hitting its highest since Oct. 10.

The leading index of euro zone stocks .STOXX50E rose 0.4 percent with Germany’s DAX .GDAXI up 0.4 percent and France’s CAC 40 .FCHI 0.4 percent higher.

The banking and insurance indexes .SX7P .SXIP were among the top performing sectors, each up 1.1 percent, with travel and leisure .SXTP flying high after Sodexo’s (EXHO.PA) better-than-expected revenue.

Shares in the world’s second-biggest catering company jumped 6 percent to their highest since March and on track for their best day since July.

Italy’s third-largest lender Banco BPM (BAMI.MI) jumped 7.6 percent after its third-quarter net profit beat forecasts thanks to lower costs and an asset sale that helped offset flat fees and falling interest income.

Commerzbank (CBKG.DE) and SocGen (SOGN.PA) were up 4.6 percent and 4 percent respectively after solid earnings updates.

It wasn’t all good news though. Shares of broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 (PSMGn.DE) plunged 17 percent to the bottom of the STOXX 600, hitting lowest level in more than six years after cutting its dividend and warning on its full-year outlook.

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Gardaí object to firm run by Traveller 'patriarch' getting licence for pub

Gardaí are objecting to an application by a company with directors who are members of the Travelling community seeking a licence to operate a pub in Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Five Lamps Inn Public House Limited, with an address in Rathkeale, has made the application before Limerick Circuit Civil Court.

The directors of the company are married couple Patrick and Breda Kealy, with addresses in the UK and at Red Brick House Fairhill, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Impact

Evidence was initially heard during a sitting of the Circuit Court in Newcastle West on October 10 last, when a number of gardaí gave evidence outlining concerns over the impact on law and order in Rathkeale should the licence for the pub be granted to the applicant.

The State Solicitor for County Limerick, Aidan Judge, while cross-examining Patrick Kealy (59), put it to the witness he was the “patriarch” of the Kealy family, who were involved in a long-running feud with other Traveller families.

Mr Kealy disputed this but said a number of families had “shaken hands”, and there were no ongoing difficulties between the various Traveller families.

The State says there is a “sufficient” number of public houses serving the Rathkeale area, as well as its surrounding hinterland, at all times of the year.

Traditionally, around Christmas time there is a surge in the local Traveller population due to families returning to the town from abroad to spend the festive period with their relatives.

The applicant has disputed other concerns raised by the State over the suitability of the proposed premises located on Main Street, Rathkeale.

The property on Main Street has been vacant for the past number of years and is currently undergoing refurbishment works.

Last month, a hearing in Newcastle West court was told gardaí have had to deploy enormous resources to Rathkeale at certain times of the year to maintain law and order.

In view of this, the State cited concerns over significant law and order enforcement issues in Rathkeale, should the applicant be granted the pub licence.

The matter was listed for hearing of further evidence today at Limerick Circuit Civil Court, sitting in Limerick City, before Judge Eoin Garavan.

However, the matter was adjourned to next week for all parties to present further submissions.

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Delhi’s air pollution is triggering a health crisis

Last week, a six-year-old boy returned home from school in Delhi, fidgety and complaining of breathlessness.

“I thought he was joking and trying to avoid school as he’s never had a history of respiratory problems,” his father told me. Within hours, however, the boy was coughing violently and gasping for breath. The parents put the family in a taxi and drove through the smog to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital, doctors diagnosed the boy as suffering from an attack of acute bronchitis.

During the next four hours, they gave him steroid injections and nebuliser treatment to clear his inflamed airway, and pumped him with antibiotics and allergy medication to prevent further infection. “It was a bad attack,” Dr Prashant Saxena, chief pulmonologist at the Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital, told me. “So we had to treat him pretty aggressively.”

‘Poison air’

The boy took three days, two of them spent in hospital, to get better. Now he’s confined indoors, getting nebuliser and steam inhalation treatment twice a day, and taking steroids and an anti-allergy syrup. “This has come as a complete shock for us. He has been such a healthy boy,” the father said.

That was possibly before the deadly pea-souper returned with a vengeance. This week, the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the air – the microscopic PM2.5 particles that can travel deep into your lungs and damage them – has climbed to more than 700 micrograms per cubic metre in parts of Delhi.

Air Quality Index (AQI) recordings have consistently hit the maximum of 999. Exposure to such toxic air is akin to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day, say doctors. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says the city has turned into a “gas chamber”.

Outpatient departments and clinics are clogged with coughing, wheezing and breathless men, women and children. Hospitals like Dr Saxena’s and the massive state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are reporting a near 20% spike in such patients. Doctors have declared a “public health emergency” – although it is not clear how it will be enforced – and have asked people to stay indoors.

“The chilly weather along with smoke and smog poses one of the biggest threats,” says Dr Saxena, “especially to those individuals who are prone to develop or show flare-ups of respiratory problems like asthma and chronic bronchitis.”

Earlier this year, four major hospitals in the city jointly began an investigation – the first of its kind – to investigate links between changes in air quality and the worsening of respiratory problems in patients.

The hospitals have deployed nurses who are keeping a record of such patients turning up in emergency rooms. Researchers are looking at treatment and admissions and examining whether there’s any marked increase on days when the air quality declines perceptibly.

It is early days yet, and the study is limited to emergency room treatment and admissions. It also doesn’t take into account the vast number of patients being treated for respiratory issues in the outpatient and smaller clinics. Still, doctors reckon that it will offer some clues on whether the city is in the throes of a serious pollution-related health crisis, as many believe.

Researchers involved in the investigation told me that the early data is showing a spike in the number of children being wheeled into emergency rooms on days when the air quality worsens. Much like the six-year-old boy who was hospitalised, they come with a cough, choked airways, prolonged colds, breathlessness, and irritation in the eyes and nose.

This is not, in itself, surprising. Delhi’s poisonous air is hurting children. They and the elderly are, of course, among the worst hit. Children’s lungs are usually weak and can easily suffer damage. A 2015 study suggested that four out of every 10 children in the capital suffered from “severe lung problems”. Doctors say they should mostly stay indoors – schools have already been shut.

Others are not better off. The pollution often exacerbates the condition of a lot of the city’s “stable” asthma patients, says pulmonologist Karan Madan of AIIMS.

It sends them back to outpatient clinics or emergency rooms, and leaves them requiring nebulisation treatment, steroid injections, oxygen and even ventilator support. “The symptoms just get a lot worse, and every such episode can lead to a long-term decline in lung function,” says Dr Madan.

There’s not much Delhi’s residents can do.

“One is to stop breathing. That is not possible. Second is to quit Delhi. That is also not possible. Third is to make the right to breathe fresh air a people’s movement,” a chest surgeon told The New York Times.

For the moment, doctors are recommending that people wear anti-pollution masks outdoors and when travelling on public transport. People with existing respiratory problems should carry inhalers, take flu and pneumonia jabs, and use air purifiers at home. Smokers should stop lighting up at home and outside. People should not burn waste.

A new study on the impact of air pollution on life expectancy by Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has found people in Delhi could live six years longer if India just met its national PM2.5 standards of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. They could live nine years longer if the country met the World Health Organization standard, which is 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

That is a most damning indictment of India’s efforts to tackle air pollution.

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A century on from WW1, 100 years of work remains to clear munitions

VILOSNES-HARAUMONT, France (Reuters) – As the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One draws near next month, bomb disposal experts are still digging up munitions sunk in the killing fields of eastern France — and it could be another 100 years before they are done.

In Vilosnes-Haraumont, where the River Meuse snakes north and west from Verdun, the German army dumped thousands of artillery shells into the river’s slowly shifting waters after the battle of Mort Homme in 1916.

Last week a pair of scuba divers plunged into the chilly waters to tie ropes around dozens of shells buried in the river bed, before a crane dragged and carefully lifted a string of the rusted ordnance onto the grassy bank.

In one day’s work, more than five tonnes of unexploded shells were dredged from the river, an unusually large haul.

In a normal year, the Metz Demining Centre says it collects between 45 and 50 tonnes of ordnance, and it estimates there are at least 250 to 300 tonnes still buried in the nearby rivers and rolling hills of eastern France.

For Guy Momper, the bomb clearance specialist overseeing the clear-up, it is a painstaking but essential task to protect people from ammunition that could still explode and return the French landscape to the way it was before the war.

“We need to tidy up the land,” said Momper, who estimates it could take more than a century to clear all the munitions. “As a matter of principle, from the moment a shell is reported, we go out and collect it.”

ACCIDENTS

World War One was largely fought on French and Belgian soil. The bulk of the grinding conflict took place in trenches — sometimes only a few meters apart — dug into the soil along the borders of France, Germany and Belgium.

More than 10 million soldiers, including 1.4 million French, died in the conflict, which came to an end on Nov. 11, 1918, dramatically altering France’s demography and landscape.

The physical impact can still be seen, with the traces of old trench networks scarring the fields, and the ground pockmarked by the blast holes from exploded shells.

While the munitions pulled from the River Meuse have little risk of exploding, Momper and his team want to make sure there are no accidents. Alongside the river, they stack dozens of shells in neat rows, ready to be packed and removed.

“There are regularly accidents involving people who fancy themselves as deminers but who go too far,” said Benoit, a deminer working with the Metz team. “Unfortunately that costs lives in the worst cases.”

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Father admits hitting his crying baby, causing multiple skull fractures

SINGAPORE – Just six months old and lying defenceless in his mother’s lap, a crying baby bore the brunt of his father’s frustration when the man struck the boy’s head so hard, it caused multiple skull fractures.

This single act of violence in 2016 caused the child to suffer permanent disabilities for which he will require help with his daily functions for the rest of his life.

The boy is now two years and eight months’ old, but his developmental age is around four months old. He cannot sit, move, turn or flip over on his own.

He also needs to be fed through a tube, the court heard.

The 30-year-old father, who works as a driver, pleaded guilty in court on Thursday (Nov 8) to causing grievous hurt to his biological son. He cannot be named due to a gag order to protect the boy’s identity.

The incident occurred in the wee hours of Aug 26, 2016. The father of three was sleeping in his Bedok North flat when the boy’s cries woke him up.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Chua told District Judge Eddy Tham: “The accused shouted ‘shut up la, shut up la. Later I have work, you make noise, I cannot sleep’, and hit the victim once on the head with his right hand.”

The man’s 26-year-old wife held tightly onto their son, who began to cry even harder. A short while later, the baby vomited onto the floor before falling asleep.

He appeared normal when he woke up at around 8am but when his mother checked on him about five hours later, he was semi-conscious and weak.

The boy was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in an ambulance. A CT scan of his head revealed that he had multiple skull fractures.

He also had excess fluid in his brain and was immediately referred to neurosurgery.

The baby was discharged on March 2 last year, about seven months after the incident.

He is now living with his foster parents who are receiving financial aid from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, as well as the Singapore Enable Assistive Technology Fund.

His older brother, who is now almost four years old, is also under foster care while their sister is still living with her parents. The girl’s age was not mentioned in court documents.

DPP Chua said that to date, the boy has not recovered from his injuries. In June this year, his foster parents found that he was unable to move his limbs voluntarily.

She added: “On one occasion, when a blanket covered his face, he was unable to react to it…He is also unable to lie flat on his back and needs to be placed in a special trolley cum bed in light of his reflux condition.”

In terms of speech, DPP Chua said the victim only coos.

“It is important to continue early intervention and close medical follow up to prevent further complications.

“However, the victim is likely to continue require assistance in all activities of daily living and mobility,” she added.

On Thursday, DPP Kumaresan Gohulabalan, who was presenting the State’s case with DPP Chua, urged the judge to sentence the man to at least 5 1/2 years’ jail with six strokes of the cane.

He added: “When the victim was crying that day, instead of pacifying the victim or even checking on him to make sure that the victim was well, the accused betrayed the trust reposed in him by not only neglecting the victim, but also physically assaulting the victim.”

Defence lawyer Shehzhadee Abdul Rahman, who was assigned to the case under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, pleaded for a four-year jail term with six strokes of the cane, adding that her client had assaulted his son during a momentary lapse of judgement.

The man is expected to be sentenced on Friday.

Offenders convicted of causing grievous hurt can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined or caned.

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