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Trump environment nominees pressed on federal climate report

Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 1:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 1:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's nominee to serve as his top environmental adviser said Wednesday she is unconvinced by a new U.S. government assessment reaffirming that manmade carbon emissions are the primary cause of climate change.

Kathleen Hartnett White testified before a Senate committee weighing her confirmation as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House. White, who is from Texas, reiterated her view that carbon dioxide is a "plant nutrient," not a pollutant.

Pressed by Democrats about the specific evidence linking carbon emissions to global warming, White grew visibly flustered.

"I am not a scientist, but in my personal capacity I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy," said White, who holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature. "We need to have a more precise explanation of the human role and the natural role."

The climate assessment released Friday as the consensus view of 13 federal agencies concluded that more than 92 percent of the observed rise in global average temperatures since 1950 is the direct result of human activity. Since 1900, Earth has warmed by 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) and seas have risen by 8 inches. Heat waves, downpours and wildfires have become frequent.

White served under former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump's energy secretary, for six years on a commission overseeing that state's environmental agency. White was fiercely critical of what she called the Obama administration's "imperial EPA" and pushed back against stricter limits on air and water pollution.

She is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies that include Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chevron. White is also a member of the CO2 Coalition, a group that seeks to educate "thought leaders, policy makers, and the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide."

Also appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee on Wednesday was Andrew Wheeler, Trump's nominee to serve as the second-highest ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency. Until recently, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist whose clients included Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal mining companies.

Wheeler said he had not read about the new climate report and could not comment on it. He expressed general agreement that human activities play a role in climate change, though he said there is uncertainty about how much — repeating the view often cited by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, said in a media interview published earlier this week that he had given Trump a three-page plan to revive the nation's struggling coal industry, and that about a third of that plan had already been implemented by the administration.

Asked about Murray's plan, Wheeler said he had seen it but denied having a copy. He said he couldn't remember the details of the plan, though he acknowledged attending meetings where it was discussed with members of the administration and Congress.

But it was White, with voluminous past writings and speeches denying climate science and advocating the continued burning of fossil fuels, who received the most aggressive questioning by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

White stood by her past statements saying particulate pollution released by burning fuels is not harmful unless one were to suck on a car tailpipe. Asked by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey about a Harvard University study linking ozone and particulate pollution to premature deaths, especially in urban communities, White said she had not read the study but found it "confusing" that would qualify as a crisis when much of the country meets federal air quality standards.

Republicans peppered White with questions about her past opposition to federal biofuels mandates, which she said would cause food shortages and widespread hunger. Though opposed by the petroleum industry, the federal requirements requiring ethanol to be blended into fuel has broad support from members of Congress from states economically dependent on farming.

White on Wednesday disavowed her past opposition to the program, saying her writings on the subject relied on flawed, out-of-date data.

___

Follow AP Environmental Writer Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

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Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 1:19 PM

Monday marks the start of a new effort to get my voice back on the radio for the first time in two years, by using a high tech solution, a computer generated voice, drawn from recordings of my old stories, as medical efforts to bring my voice back – to anything close to normal – have not been successful.

It was April 2016 when my voice began to falter, after I got sick on a family vacation; since then, my doctors have determined that I have a rare neurological disorder, in which the signals from the brain are getting mixed up somehow, causing my tongue to push out of my mouth when I speak – it’s known as ‘tongue protrusion dystonia.’

As it became obvious in the last year that my voice was not coming back, we searched for answers, and finally, high tech guru Mike Lupo at our Cox Media Group corporate headquarters contacted a company in Scotland, CereProc, which agreed to try to build what amounts to a Jamie Dupree voice app.

How does it work? How do I produce stories with it? Why is it even needed? Let’s take a look.

1. Let’s start with an explanation of what’s wrong. Over the past two years, there have been no answers in the search for my voice. What I have is a neurological disorder, for which there really aren’t specific treatments, known as tongue protrusion dystonia. When I try to talk, my tongue pops out of my mouth, my throat clenches, and it results in a strangled, unintelligible voice. I’ve been to Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, George Washington, the Cleveland Clinic, Emory University. The Mayo Clinic wouldn’t take my case. Many doctors have frankly admitted my problems were above their expertise. At Easter of 2017, the head of the voice center at the Cleveland Clinic correctly diagnosed my problems, but had no names to offer me in terms of treatment. I have been seeing a doctor outside of D.C. who agreed to try to decipher my case, but we really haven’t pushed any closer to a solution. In March, I saw Dr. Hyder Jinnah at the Emory University Brain Health Center in Atlanta – he gave me two Botox shots to my tongue in mid-May, to see if that would slow my tongue, and stop it from thrusting out of my mouth when I speak. It hasn’t really helped, so we will try again in August, with a little more Botox. You can hear from my doctor in this report that was done by CNN’s medical unit, thanks to producer Sandee LaMotte.

2. Building a voice from the Dupree archives. Since my voice isn’t going to re-appear anytime soon, we started looking for high tech ways to get me back on the air. The first step was gathering years of recordings of my voice. I have shoe boxes filled with cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, mini-discs, hard drives, and all sorts of different media storage devices from the first time I went on the radio in 1983, up through April of 2016 when my voice went out. But to build this voice, we focused on recordings from the last few years, which I had saved on our company computer system. Whether it was my reports from Capitol Hill, or from out on the campaign trail, I had hours and hours of material. But what the people at CereProc needed was audio that was only from me – so I spent several very late nights sorting through hundreds and hundreds of my stories to isolate those items which would help build a good voice. Going through all of that audio, it was like a trip down memory lane of what news stories that I had covered in the past few years, where I had been during my campaign coverage, what stories were big, and more. But that audio search was also a sobering personal reminder for me, that what was once normal – the mere act of speaking on the radio – was now impossible. Thus, the need for Jamie Dupree 2.0.

3. CereProc then goes to work. Once I handed off hundreds of audio files to the folks at CereProc in Scotland, all I could do was wait to see what they were going to be able to produce. “The voice was harder to build as the audio data used to build the voice was not recorded for the purpose of building a text-to-speech voice,” said Graham Leary, who was in charge of my voice development. “Normally we would record a phonetically-balanced script, optimized for coverage of the different sounds in English,” he added. In other words – they would bring someone in to record 30 hours or more of material, to make sure they get all the right sounds. With me, they had to improvise, but Leary said it worked out okay. “The radio reports are high quality and a suitable alternative – they are studio-recorded, read in a measured, consistent style and don’t have any interjections from other speakers, crowd noise, applause etc. that can make audio difficult to work with.” Trust me, this is a complicated process.

4. Pairing the voice with a text-to-speech program. The folks at CereProc recommended downloading a freeware program called “Balabolka” to use with my Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice. While the name might be a tongue twister, the program is fairly straightforward. You load a specific voice to be used – in my case, the “CereVoice Jamiedupree – English (East Coast America)” voice. You type in some words. Then you hit the ‘play’ button. And it plays what you write. Hit another button, and it exports those written words into a computer generated audio file, either wav or mp3. Balabolka is a very powerful tool, and can probably do a lot more than I am using it for – but to see how it easy it was to hit Alt-W and generate an mp3 file with my new voice, it was really quite a surprise. So, when you hear me on the radio with this synthesized voice, it will just be me typing the words, and saving them into an audio file.

5. How does the voice work? When I type words into the text-to-speech program, it doesn’t go looking in an audio vault on my laptop for the exact words that I write, and then put those words together one-by-one. Instead, it searches out the sounds that would be made. So, this is not a question of having me on tape saying every word in the dictionary. Yes, it helps to have examples of me saying “President Trump” or “Congress.” But I know there was no example in my stories of me saying “Rudy Giuliani,” and yet, that popped out perfectly when I tried out the voice. How can that happen? CereProc uses “neural networks” to generate voices. “The neural networks, which contain between six to 10 layers each, work by slicing audio recordings of words down to phonetics,” the BBC wrote in a technical story about my new computer generated voice. This allows the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice – and other voices created by companies all over the world – to navigate through just about any piece of text.

6. Figuring out certain words and sounds. While I have great praise for CereProc, the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice isn’t perfect. One thing you run into immediately is that certain words and phrases don’t sound right – either because they are not pronounced clearly enough, or they seem artificially shortened. So, I spend a lot of time going back and moving words around in my news copy to see if it will sound better. One other way to massage the voice is that there are also a series of XML commands which can be used to emphasize certain words, to change the pitch, or alter the speed. One thing I quickly noticed is that the voice cuts off a word rather sharply at the end of a sentence – I simply found a way to fix that by slowing down the speed of the last word (or syllable) by 1 or 2 notches, to make it sound more natural. But there are some words that just don’t come out right, even if they are spelled correctly, so you have to be inventive. “Investigation” just doesn’t come out right, no matter what I try. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s last name didn’t sound good at all – so I wrote “Rye Inn” instead – and that sounded just right. Let’s take the word “denuclearize.” It sounded awful when written that way – but I found a way to make it sound better, as shown in the graphic below, by making it D-nuclear-rise, and by slowing down the final syllable.

7. What does Jamie Dupree 2.0 sound like? Listen to this extended ‘interview’ that I did with the BBC World Service. Some of the words and phrases sound natural and fairly normal – at other times, it gets a bit robotic. But to me, it’s still pretty amazing. It is my voice in there. And to be on the BBC World Service was a treat – I got hooked on shortwave radio as a teenager, and loved listening to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ each week. Will this voice solution work in the long run? That will be up to my bosses – and really, up to the listeners. If they can deal with the different sound – whether in a newscast, or a longer form appearance – then I will still be able to deliver the news from Capitol Hill. I fully expect to get a lot of people saying nice things, and I fully expect to get a lot of mean and nasty social media messages as well.

8. Comparing the old, the new, and 2.0 After two years of not having a voice that was ready for a trip to the grocery store – much less going on the radio – it is truly fantastic to have a way to get back on the radio. Yes, the voice is a bit robotic at times. But it is me. I can hear myself in these words. So, let’s look at how I sounded before, what I sound like now, and what Jamie Dupree 2.0 is like.

This news report is from February 28, 2016, at a Trump rally in Alabama. It was a giant crowd, and was one of my favorite reports from the first three months of 2016, when I was chasing the candidates all over the country.



What do I sound like now? I can get out words that sound okay, but not in any type of rapid fire way. If I am going to speak, it has to be very slow, and with a pen in my mouth to keep my tongue occupied (that is the source of my problem, a tongue which is not behaving properly, as it pops out of my mouth when I speak).



As you can tell from that audio, it is a struggle to say just about anything. So, we go to Jamie Dupree 2.0. It can say anything that I want (though four letter words don’t come out very well, just in case you were wondering). But, all I really want is to find my real voice again. Version 1 was better. But Jamie Dupree 2.0 is here, and this is what it sounds like.



9. Thanks to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). I can’t give any rundown on my voice without thanking Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When she was elected after the death of Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL), one of my company’s radio stations was in Miami, so I got to know her right away when she arrived in Congress in 1989. While Cox Media Group sold our news-talk station in Miami, I still kept in touch with Ros-Lehtinen in the hallways of the Capitol. She would hear me on the radio and happily chirp, “The most connected man in Washington!” When I told her of my voice problems late in 2017, she gave me a hug and said she would help. Her speech on the floor of the House in December drew attention to my problems, and spurred interest from news organizations. That’s how CNN’s medical unit got interested, and that’s how I found my way to Dr. Jinnah at Emory. I can’t thank Ros-Lehtinen, Speaker Ryan, and others for their help. It made a difference for me.

10. How do I feel about Jamie Dupree 2.0? Let’s be honest. I want to be able to speak normally. Even just somewhat normally. A friend texted me to ask, was I nervous about the new voice? I guess, a little. But if there is one thing that I take from the last two years, it’s that I never gave up. I kept working at my job. I kept searching for a medical answer. I’m still searching for that answer. The outlook was admittedly bleak at times, like in April 2017 when the doctor at the Cleveland Clinic told me that no one could even treat my neurological/voice disorder. Early on, I knew I couldn’t give up. I have kids who are only 9, 11, and 14. “I think everyone saw how passionate and how badly/deeply you wanted this,” my boss told me the other day. “He never let anyone see him sweat,” said my friend and colleague Dorey Scheimer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to come down to our company’s headquarters in Atlanta – our CEO Alex Taylor wanted to see me. It turned out to be an event with several hundred people, where I was presented with the “Governor Cox Award,” named after our company’s founder, Taylor’s great-grandfather, James M. Cox. Taylor told the audience that because of my voice problems, I could have given up, I could have gone on disability, I could have quit my job. But I didn’t. His words meant a lot to me, and they have been echoed by many inside our company in recent weeks. I want to thank him, and many others for their support.

Finally, I want to thank all the listeners, viewers, readers, and fellow ham radio operators who have sent me expressions of support over the past two years. Your words of encouragement were a great source of strength.

I would also thank those of you who sent me nasty emails, and celebrated my voice troubles. I know you will be back to criticize my new voice.

But you know what? Those jabs make me work even harder to stay in the news arena.

And now, we go onward – with Jamie Dupree 2.0.

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Trump: Justice Department report wrong in finding no bias by FBI

Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 10:58 AM

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump told reporters Friday that a Justice Department watchdog report issued one day earlier showed the FBI was plotting against him during the runup to the 2016 presidential election.

>> Read more trending news

In a wide-ranging interview on “Fox and Friends,” the president said the report showed people “at the top level” of the FBI were “plotting against my election.”

The 568-page inspector general report issued Thursday criticized former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office. However, the report did not find evidence that Comey was motivated by political bias or preference in his decisions.

“The end result was wrong. I mean, there was total bias,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends.”

He told reporters gathered on the front lawn of the White House that the inspector general report was a “horror show,” but he insisted that it “totally exonerates” him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to Trump and his campaign officials.

“What you really see is … bias against me and millions, and tens of millions of my followers,” the president said. “That is really a disgrace.”

Included in the report released Thursday were politically charged text messages sent between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The messages were critical of Trump and sent between Strzok and Page in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

>> Some missing text messages between FBI employees recovered, DOJ says

Strzok had been assigned to work on Mueller’s team, but he was removed from the investigation last summer after the anti-Trump messages surfaced. Page had already finished her stint on Mueller’s team by the time the messages were found, according to CNN.

Earlier Friday, Trump took to Twitter to slam Strzok and Page, pointing to a message Strzok sent in which he promised Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. The message was sent in August 2016 after Page asked Strzok whether Trump would become president, according to Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree.

>> From Jamie Dupree: Trump denounces Comey, Strzok, in wake of IG report

“No. No he’s not,” Strzok answered. “We’ll stop it.”

Trump criticized the exchange Friday, writing on Twitter that it “doesn’t get any lower than that!” 

Mueller’s investigation, launched in May 2017, has led to charges against several people connected to the Trump presidential campaign and its officials.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation 

The president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges stemming from the probe. Five people -- including former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to charges in the probe and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

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Sen. Brown, GOP opponent Renacci both support Trump on China tariffs

Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 3:56 PM
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 3:56 PM

US Sen. Sherrod Brown and his GOP challenger Jim Renacci
Bill Clark
US Sen. Sherrod Brown and his GOP challenger Jim Renacci(Bill Clark)

Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger Jim Renacci hailed President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to impose $50 billion worth of imports from China, a move which could trigger a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Brown, D-Ohio, who met privately this week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said “China’s cheating has shuttered steel plants across our state, put Ohioans out of work, and distorted global markets.”

“Today’s tariffs are in important step toward enforcing trade laws and making clear the U.S. will not allow China to cheat Americans out of their jobs,” Brown said.

RELATED: Ohioans against increased tariffs on Canada, Mexico; split on China

Renacci, a Republican congressman from Wadsworth, said “China has consistently proven it’s a bad actor when it comes to fair trade practices, and it’s about time they are held accountable.”

But support for the tariffs on China sparked a vigorous debate between the Brown and Renacci campaigns between which candidate has been tougher on China.

Rachel Petri, a spokeswoman for Brown’s campaign, said “it’s nice of Congressman Renacci to say ‘it’s about time’ China be held accountable on trade, but working Ohioans have been asking that of him for the last seven years he’s been in Congress supporting trade deals that put Ohio jobs at risk.”

Petri was referring to Renacci voting in 2011 to approve free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, all which were favored by President Barack Obama. None of those agreements had any impact on trade with China.

Leslie Shedd, a Renacci spokeswoman, said “since his first term in office” in 2011, “Renacci has been fighting to hold China accountable for their unfair trade practices,” adding “it’s embarrassing to watch Sherrod Brown desperately feign support for President Trump in election season when in reality he’s a consistent obstructionist to the president’s agenda.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows while 55 percent of Ohio voters favor higher tariffs on imported goods from China, support plummets to just 46 percent if the duties lead to higher consumer prices. By their very nature, tariffs lead to higher prices.

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Congress to tackle more than 30 opioid-related bills in coming days

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2018 @ 2:38 PM
Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2018 @ 2:38 PM

Prescription bottle with pills
Prescription bottle with pills

It’s full-throttle focus on the opioid epidemic on Capitol Hill this week, with the House and a key Senate panel voting on a wide range of legislative proposals aimed at stemming a crisis blamed for the deaths of more than 42,000 in 2016 alone.

In the House, lawmakers plan to spend the next week and a half voting on 39 bills dealing with the epidemic. And a Senate panel this week pushed through a plan that would help newborns suffering from addiction.

RELATED: Pharmacists joining forces to fight opioid epidemic

Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, both members of the Senate Finance Committee, backed the proposal, which would allow residential pediatric recovery centers such as Brigid’s Path in Kettering to receive Medicaid funding to treat babies born addicted to opioids and other drugs. That measure was part of a larger bill aimed at focusing on how best to use federal programs to pay for opioid treatment.

Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome typically have to be treated in the neonatal intensive care unit, but those units aren’t ideal for newborns born addicted — the lights are too bright and the noises too loud. The measure introduced by Portman and Brown would allow Medicaid to cover places more ideal for treating newborns born addicted.

The bill would not cost taxpayers any additional money, Portman said. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, is pushing a similar measure in the House.

“I have been fighting to help newborns addicted to opioids since I learned of the problem,” Turner said in a statement. “Our bill will give organizations such as Brigid’s Path, which Health and Human Services Secretary (Alex) Azar visited earlier this year, funding to treat these vulnerable babies. Our introduction of the modified language in the House brings us one step closer to making the funding of the care of these newborn victims of the opioid epidemic a reality.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.(Staff Writer)

Brown also was successful in getting the committee to include a measure that would require drug companies and medical device makers to publicly disclose the payments they make to nurse practitioners and physician assistants for promotional talks, consulting and other interactions. The measure is aimed at increasing transparency around prescribing practices and the relationship between drug companies and prescriptions for opioids.

RELATED: Ohio gets $$26M federal grand to target opioid crisis

In the House, the votes on bills aimed at curbing the epidemic are expected to go well into next week. Among the bills passed by voice vote earlier this week was one introduced by Columbus-area Rep. Steve Stivers that would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to issue guidance to those seeking federal funds to make sure they have the resources they need to implement evidence-based solutions to the opioid crisis.

The House will also vote on measures that aim to increase research on non-addictive pain medication and make treatment for opioid addiction more accessible. They’ll also vote on a revised version of a bill pushed in the Senate by Portman aimed at blocking the shipment of synthetic opioids into the United States through the international mail system.

A handful of the measures are contentious, including one Republican bill that would create new criminal penalties for making or trafficking certain synthetic drugs containing fentanyl. That powerful opioid can be made illegally and is taking a growing toll. Democrats complain that the legislation would give the government unfettered power to decide which drugs would be banned, without scientific input.

West Virginia had the highest death rate from drug overdoses in 2016, with Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania close behind. In sheer numbers of deaths, Ohio, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania all saw more than 4,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2016.

The death toll has more than tripled since 2000, when around 17,000 people died from drug abuse. That’s made the issue a top campaign-season priority for both parties. Despite enacting two significant bills on the subject in 2016 — and Congress providing additional billions to combat opioids in this year’s government-wide spending bill — lawmakers are eager for another round.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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