Beyond the county: Puerto Rico says it’s scrapping $300M Whitefish contract | TheUnion.com

Beyond the county: Puerto Rico says it’s scrapping $300M Whitefish contract

Associated Press

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.

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'Penance': NC congressman writes to families of dead troops

RALEIGH, N.C. — 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.

Why the explosive growth of e-commerce could mean more jobs

WASHINGTON — When the robots came to online retailer Boxed, dread came, too: The familiar fear that the machines would take over, leaving a trail of unemployed humans in their wake.

"I had a lot of people asking me, 'What is going to happen to us?'" says Veronica Mena, a trainer for the e-commerce startup, recalling the anxiety that rippled through her co-workers after company executives announced plans to open an automated warehouse in nearby Union, New Jersey.

Yet their fears didn't come to pass.

When the new warehouse opened this spring, workers found that their jobs were less physically demanding than at the older, manual warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. Instead of walking thousands of steps a day loading items onto carts, employees could stand at stations as conveyor belts brought the goods to them.

And rather than cutting jobs, the company added a third shift to keep up with rapidly growing demand.

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.

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.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The head of Puerto Rico's power company said Sunday the agency will cancel its $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid increased scrutiny of the tiny Montana company's role in restoring the island's power system following Hurricane Maria.

The announcement by Ricardo Ramos came hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged the utility to scrap the deal for Whitefish's help in rebuilding the electrical system.

"It's an enormous distraction," Ramos said of the controversy over the contract. "This was negatively impacting the work we're already doing."

The current work by Whitefish teams will not be affected by the cancellation and that work will be completed in November, Ramos said. He said the cancellation will delay pending work by 10 to 12 weeks if no alternatives are found.

Ramos said he had not talked with Whitefish executives about his announcement. "A lawsuit could be forthcoming," he warned.

Huge rally in Barcelona rejects Catalan secession bid

BARCELONA, Spain — Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to voice their opposition to the region's declaration of independence amid vast political uncertainty for the region in northeast Spain.

Catalonia's political leadership was fired Saturday by central authorities in Madrid who are trying to tame the worst political crisis Spain has seen in decades. So far, Catalan's former leader has insinuated that he won't step down.

Waving Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags, the protesters described themselves as the silent majority who have been ignored during the wealthy region's bid for independence, which came to a head Friday when the regional parliament voted to secede from Spain.

"We have organized ourselves late, but we are here to show that there is a majority of Catalans that are no longer silent and that no longer want to be silenced," said Alex Ramos, head of Catalan Civil Society, a pro-union grassroots group.

The organizers said more than 1 million people turned out but police put the figure at 300,000. There was no way to immediately reconcile the figures.

Somali police, intelligence chiefs fired after deadly attack

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Security forces ended an overnight siege by militants Sunday at a hotel in Somalia's capital after a bombing and shootout that killed 23 people, and the government fired its police and intelligence chiefs amid the continuing extremist attacks.

The Cabinet action followed a recommendation by Security Minister Mohamed Abukar Islow. It came hours after the end of the attack on the Nasa-Hablod Hotel and two weeks after more than 350 people were killed in a massive truck bombing on a busy Mogadishu street in Somalia's worst-ever attack.

The bloodshed has shaken public confidence in the ability of the military to protect the capital, and many Somalis blame the government of not doing enough.

"We are dying in hundreds now," said resident Ahmednur Hashi. "Who is going to protect us?"

Al-Shabab, Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group, claimed responsibility for the latest attack, which began Saturday afternoon when a truck bomb exploded outside the popular hotel. The blast twisted vehicles and caused massive damage to nearby buildings that were left with only their walls standing.

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