WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Tuesday rejected President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Export-Import Bank, extending the chaos at the embattled agency whose job is to help U.S. companies sell their goods abroad.

Two Republicans joined all Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee in voting against former Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., to be the bank’s president.

Garrett had been a vocal critic of the Ex-Im Bank and a leader of a conservative effort that shut the bank down for five months in 2015 by blocking its congressional authorization. He and other bank opponents branded the bank’s aid as crony capitalism.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a supporter of the bank, said the vote “sends a clear message that Mr. Garrett lacks the qualifications and commitment” to the bank.

Opened during the Great Depression, the bank helps U.S. companies sell their products overseas by providing loan guarantees to foreign buyers and other assistance for sales of goods manufactured domestically.

Many other countries have similar export-credit agencies. The aid is crucial for projects in developing nations, which often require government-backed financing and scare private banks because of fears of default.

The Ex-Im Bank is backed by business groups and enjoys bipartisan support.

Some conservative lawmakers and groups such as Heritage Action for America strongly oppose the bank. They have said its assistance is corporate welfare that mostly helps large companies.

—Los Angeles Times


Drone tracking plan moves US delivery by air closer to reality

WASHINGTON — Deliveries by drones took a step closer to being allowed in the U.S. after a federal advisory panel agreed on a framework for allowing law enforcement to routinely track the small devices.

The committee’s report to the Federal Aviation Administration, released Tuesday, is a significant step toward widening drone flights to allow them over people, urban areas and over long distances. A system to track and identify drones is necessary before companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s X and Amazon.com Inc. can deliver packages via unmanned drones, or for utilities and railroads can broaden their use for inspections.

While the report laid out the rough specifications necessary for such tracking, various interest groups dissented over whether certain small drones would get waivers to fly without being identified.

Allowing any drones to fly unidentified creates a “potentially dangerous loophole,” a representative for the Air Line Pilots Association said in his comments. ALPA is the largest union representing pilots in North America.

The FAA, which is working with federal and local law enforcement agencies concerned about drone safety and security, will now take the industry and hobbyists comments under advisement and begin drafting a proposed set of regulations requiring tracking.

The report comes on the heels of the first U.S. accident report involving a drone-caused midair collision.

—Bloomberg News


Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he’s seriously thinking about running for president in 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Can you smell that possible 2020 presidential bid that The Rock is cooking?

Dwayne Johnson, the former Miami Hurricanes football player and part-time South Florida resident, has been telling multiple media outlets that he is seriously thinking about running for president.

Johnson has done what few others have been able to do: transition successfully from professional wrestling to Hollywood movie-making.

But can he transition successfully to politics?

In the past year and a half he’s made several serious and not-so-serious references to potentially running, in GQ, Vanity Fair, and on “Jimmy Fallon” and “Saturday Night Live.”

On a recent appearance on “The Ellen Show,” however, Johnson gave his strongest indication yet when he was asked if he’s still mulling a bid for the White House.

“I’m seriously considering it, yes,” Johnson said.

Even before Johnson could respond, the question prompted a full endorsement from another guest on the show, comedian Kevin Hart, who called Johnson “genuine” and “very serious when it comes to spreading that love.”

Both Johnson and Hart star in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which opens in theaters Wednesday.



More than 37,000 Cubans in US face deportation orders

MIAMI — Some arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border only a few hours after the sudden change in immigration policy on Jan. 12. Others have been in the United States since much earlier. The majority face possible deportation.

According to official figures, the number of Cubans with final orders of deportation has increased this year. Through Dec. 9, there were 37,218 facing final deportation orders.

Meanwhile, the number of Cuban migrants currently in detention centers now exceeds 1,600.

“As of December 9, 2017, there were 1,686 Cuban nationals in ICE detention,” Brendan Raedy, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, stated in an email.

That is an increase from the 1,453 Cubans who were in detention as of Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ended.

Detention or deportation is the new reality for most Cubans who try to enter the United States without visas, following the elimination of a policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” under former President Barack Obama. Announced simultaneously by the U.S. and Cuban governments, the policy change halted special entry permits known as “parole” given to Cubans who managed to make it onto U.S. soil by land, air or sea.

Effective Jan. 12, undocumented Cubans lost their special status and can only gain entry if they request asylum, an option that takes them directly to a detention center for immigrants. The likelihood of being granted asylum is slim and most end up joining the long list of “deportable aliens.”

The Cuban government has promised to receive those who arrived after Jan. 12. But the fate of those who had previous orders of deportation is more uncertain. Cuba said it would analyze each case and focus on those who have been deemed as “priority for return.”

—El Nuevo Herald


North Korea begins tests to load anthrax onto ICBMs, newspaper says

TOKYO — North Korea has begun tests to load anthrax onto intercontinental ballistic missiles, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified person connected to South Korea’s intelligence services.

The report said the testing involves ensuring the anthrax survives the immense temperatures generated during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. North Korea has a stockpile of between 2,500 tons to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, and is capable of producing biological agents such as anthrax and smallpox, South Korea has previously said.

The Asahi report comes a day after the White House published its National Security Strategy, a document that said Pyongyang is “pursuing chemical and biological weapons which could also be delivered by missile.”

“North Korea — a country that starves its own people — has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that could threaten our homeland,” the report said.

North Korea claimed it had completed its nuclear force after it fired a new Hwasong-15 ICBM in late November. South Korea assessed the missile — North Korea’s largest yet — could potentially fly 13,000 kilometers (about 8,000 miles) and reach Washington, though additional analysis was needed to determine whether it was capable of re-entry.

—Bloomberg News


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