WASHINGTON — The latest Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would inflict “real human suffering” on millions of Americans, former President Barack Obama said Wednesday, speaking out in public defense of his signature health care reform effort.

The law has led to major increases in the number of Americans with health care coverage, Obama said, speaking in New York at an event on global development sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“When I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th or 60th time,” he said, “it is aggravating.”

The Republican efforts would make coverage unavailable to cancer survivors, pregnant women, children with asthma and others with existing medical problems, he said, “without any … common sense rationale.”

“It’s certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents,” he added. “But typically, that’s how progress is won, and how progress is maintained.”

—Tribune Washington Bureau


Federal Reserve will start reducing stockpile of bonds it bought to stimulate the economy

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it would start slowly reducing the trillions of dollars in bonds it bought to try to stimulate the economy, another milestone in the central bank’s efforts to return to a normal monetary policy after the Great Recession.

The long-awaited reduction in the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet comes amid great uncertainty at the central bank. There are several vacancies on the Fed board, and there could be a change in leadership early next year if President Donald Trump decides not to renominate Chair Janet Yellen.

On top of that, the devastation caused by recent severe hurricanes could make it difficult for Fed policymakers to get a solid read on the economy in the coming weeks as they decide whether to enact another small hike in a key interest rate.

“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have devastated many communities, inflicting severe hardship,” Fed officials said in a policy statement Wednesday after their two-day meeting.

“Storm-related disruptions and rebuilding will affect economic activity in the near-term, but past experience suggests that the storms are unlikely to materially alter the course of the national economy over the medium term,” the Fed statement said.

One short-term effect of the hurricanes will be higher gasoline prices, which “will likely boost inflation temporarily,” the Fed said.

But economists say that negative short-term effects caused by the storms, such as shutdowns by businesses in the affected areas, usually are offset by a boost in activity when rebuilding begins.

The actions by Fed policymakers Wednesday demonstrated their confidence that the hurricanes will not cause long-term economic damage in the U.S.

As expected, central bank officials voted to hold the benchmark federal funds rate steady at between 1 percent and 1.25 percent. But they still are forecasting another increase of 0.25 of a percentage point by the end of the year — a signal they think the economy is still on solid ground.

Fed policymakers actually revised up their forecast for economic growth this year to 2.4 percent from a 2.2 percent projection in June.

—Los Angeles Times


Man pleads not guilty to hate crime charge after prosecutors say he threatened hookah bar patrons

LOS ANGELES — A 29-year-old man with white supremacist tattoos has pleaded not guilty to a hate crime and civil rights charges for allegedly threatening to kill customers and employees of Iranian descent inside a Lake Forest hookah lounge.

Orange County prosecutors say Andrew Alan Carruthers “acted aggressively” toward customers at the BluFig Hookah Lounge Friday about 9 p.m. and was asked to leave but kept returning.

Carruthers then allegedly threatened to kill customers and employees at the lounge, prompting a patron to call 911. Carruthers ran from Orange County sheriff’s deputies before surrendering. When arrested, Carruthers was wearing a T-shirt with an expletive and the word “ISIS,” an abbreviation often used for the Islamic State. His Facebook page includes images of tattoos, including “Hate Boy” across his chest.

Carruthers entered the plea Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court. He is charged with felony threats, misdemeanor resisting arrest, obstructing an officer and violating civil rights. With sentencing enhancements for a hate crime, Caruthers could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

—Los Angeles Times


Scientists say recent quake swarm at Mount Rainier is not unusual

SEATTLE — Nearly two dozen small earthquakes have rattled Mount Rainier over the past week, but seismologists say there’s no cause for worry.

“In the past, these swarms last a couple of days to a week or so and then die out,” said Paul Bodin, of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.

The first of the 23 quakes struck on Sept. 11 near the volcano’s summit. The largest of the quakes registered magnitude 1.6.

Earthquake swarms are common at volcanos, and usually don’t signify any threat of eruption, Bodin said in an email. “So I’m treating this as a single eyebrow raised halfway,” he wrote. “Yeah, I see you and will be watching, but I don’t think you’re going to attack.”

Most volcanic quake swarms originate in the hydrothermal plumbing system, related to slight changes in temperature or groundwater pressure that cause cracking of the rocks, Bodin explained. The recent quakes are shallow, which also suggests they are not connected to the deep movement of magma.

—The Seattle Times

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