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Updated: 12 min 44 sec ago

To educate people about marijuana, Colorado health officials tried ads with a radically friendly tone. Did it work?

58 min 30 sec ago

After Colorado became the first state in the country to launch legal marijuana sales to anyone over 21, state officials faced an equally unprecedented challenge: How to tell people, in this newly permissive environment, that cannabis use still poses risks?

The first effort tried humor, with ads featuring genial stoners making stupid mistakes. The second effort went for the surreal, with giant rat cages set up across the metro area.

Both were widely ridiculed.

But a new report from the Colorado Health Department suggests that a third approach was just right. People who encountered the department’s “Good to Know” campaign — which features a neighborly tone and probably the only use of hoedown music ever in marijuana public service announcements — were more likely to understand the state’s cannabis laws and to believe that marijuana use has risks for health and safety, according to the report.

Those results have Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, cautiously ready to declare a victory in public health messaging about drugs, a field mostly known for prominent failures.

“It, maybe, has been money well spent,” Wolk said.

For decades, health officials have struggled to come up with anti-drug messages that will resonate with their intended audiences, especially when those audiences are young.

Remember the DARE campaign, a common feature in classrooms two decades ago? Multiple researchers have concluded that it didn’t work. And it isn’t alone. In study upon study, numerous anti-drug campaigns have been shown to have little to no impact on drug use.

Some campaigns can even backfire, leading kids, especially, to believe that drug use either isn’t a big deal or is something that everybody around them is already doing.

“The problem that the ads had,” Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor and former drug policy adviser to two U.S. presidents, told National Public Radio in an interview last year, “was they’re trying to please the congressional audience, a 60-year-old white man or woman in a suit. That’s not what’s going to resonate with kids.”

When Colorado voters legalized marijuana use and possession in 2012, that problem was only compounded. So state officials tried a shift in tone that they viewed as stepping away from “Just say no.”

The first ads, which cautioned against driving while high, featured stoners forgetting to screw a TV into a wall before sitting down to watch or forgetting to hook up the grill before setting out to cook. That’s OK, the ads said, as long as you don’t drive high. (Marijuana advocates criticized the ads as condescending.)

A second campaign — targeted at teens — was called “Don’t Be a Lab Rat,” and it was built around a high-concept metaphor: that teens who smoke pot are unwittingly submitting themselves to an experiment on their brains since they do not know what the longterm impacts of marijuana use will be. (The campaign also featured installations around the city of human-sized rat cages, which were promptly mocked and vandalized.)

Mason Tvert, who helped lead the campaign for legalization, watched and shook his head. In his view, campaigns to encourage responsible marijuana use can’t begin with the premise that marijuana use is wrong.

“It has to be nonjudgmental,” he said.

In other words, Colorado had to become the first state in the country to take the “anti” out of its anti-drug ads.

When the “Good to Know” campaign launched in early 2015, one year after the start of legal sales at stores, it was startling in its friendliness. Upbeat, twangy music played in the background. The voiceover was self-consciously folksy and, often, rhyming.

“For those underage, it’s just not OK,” one radio spot went. “Their brains are still growing, so keep it away.”

“This is not an aversion campaign,” Wolk said at the time. “This is really a way to educate folks without alienating folks.”

Subsequent iterations of the campaign have specifically targeted Spanish speakers or tried to inspire “trusted adults” — parents, teachers or other mentors — to talk to kids about pot. The campaign is funded by marijuana tax dollars.

The Health Department’s new study, led by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, suggests the campaign has been a success.

People who’d seen the Good to Know campaign were 2.5 times more likely to know about key components of the legalization law — like the prohibition on public use — than those who hadn’t seen the campaign. They also were more likely to say that heavy marijuana use can have negative health consequences and that driving within six hours of using marijuana is dangerous.

Messages targeted specifically at pregnant women, parents and tourists showed similarly encouraging signs of effectiveness, according to the study.

To Tvert, the reason for the campaign’s apparent success is clear.

“There are certain potential harms for certain people and we need to make sure those people are learning about
those potential harms and not scaring everyone with exaggerated harms,” he said. “And I think they’ve gotten much better at that.”

Wolk agreed, in a way, saying that the campaign’s efforts to target specifics groups — such as at-risk kids — is a big reason for its success. But he said his department has a lot more work to do in talking to Coloradans about marijuana’s downsides.

The new study also revealed some weaknesses in the campaign’s messaging.

People who use marijuana were found to be only about half as likely as non-users to believe that marijuana use can lead to dependence or that using marijuana daily can have negative health effects. Parents who use marijuana were less likely to say they thought cannabis has health risks for adolescents.

“Now that we’ve gained some good ground, the focus is really going to intensify now on the potential health effects,” Wolk said.

The department, he said, hopes to more directly address people who are already using marijuana, not just those who might use marijuana. It also plans to step up a campaign called “Protect What’s Next,” which encourages kids to set goals for their lives and then cautions that marijuana use could get in the way of those.

Those kinds of ominous warnings could clash with the friendly tone that the Good to Know campaign has established. Tvert said he believes the state must keep its nonjudgmental approach going forward and also include information about alcohol and other drugs.

But Wolk assured that the department’s friendlier approach won’t change.

“Youth don’t want to hear that it’s going to impact a developing brain from doctors like me,” he said. “They’re going to want to hear from peers or trusted adults about what’s next.”



I-70 closed in both directions between Aurora and Burlington

1 hour 1 min ago

Colorado transportation officials have closed Interstate 70 in both directions east of Denver due to numerous vehicle crashes, icy roads and extreme driving conditions Monday morning.

The Colorado Department of Transportation officials closed Interstate 70 between Airport Boulevard and Burlington. Other highways into Kansas including U.S. 36, U.S. 40 and U.S. 85 also have been closed.

“There’s still high winds and blowing and driving snow,” said Tamara Rollison, CDOT spokeswoman. “The passes have been plowed and treated but there is still packed snow and ice on the highways.”

“Today will be a clean-up day,” Rollison said.

I-70 out east at Airpark to Burlington is still closed due to severe wind conditions. Crews are waiting until daybreak when the winds will reportedly subside to see if it is safe to open. Check https://t.co/uOU0HHbUQ6 to see what the roads look like in your area. pic.twitter.com/M5CEz9218U

— CDOT (@ColoradoDOT) January 22, 2018

There is no estimate about when the highway will be reopened.

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Passenger vehicles are required to have mud/snow tires, chains or alternative traction devices on I-70 between Vail and Copper Mountain. Four-wheel drive vehicles are acceptable.

This story will be updated when new information is available.

Puffy jackets and poinsettias: Gifts to Denver council members from DIA and other city offices draw ethics scrutiny

1 hour 57 min ago

Freebies flow regularly into Denver City Council offices from city departments and agencies, but most members gave little thought to accepting the mugs, commemorative items, city-grown holiday poinsettia plants, branded clothing and more valuable gifts that have come their way.

That has changed in the wake of a recent advisory opinion issued by the Denver Board of Ethics that called the practice into question.

The appointed five-member panel advised council members not to accept anything valued over $25 from other city offices, lest they be open to the appearance of influence by officials seeking their approval for big contracts and other proposals.

In the weeks since the advisory opinion landed, it’s drawn formal pushback from the city attorney’s office and has sparked debate among council members — who may have the last word by passing an amendment to the city’s Code of Ethics in coming months.

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To Councilman Rafael Espinoza, whose office prompted the issuance of the opinion by requesting clarity on the acceptance and reporting of city-provided gifts, the issue comes down to a matter of maintaining the council’s independence from Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration.

He thinks council members should either reject or publicly disclose the free trips and pricier gifts they get from city government. He puts particular emphasis on Denver International Airport, which last year won council approval for billions of dollars worth of contracts for upcoming renovation and expansion projects.

“Our job as electeds is oversight,” Espinoza said. “While we are all at the city of Denver, we are not part of the executive. We don’t get to negotiate contracts or their terms, we only vote on them.”

But while Councilman Wayne New echoes his support for the ethics board’s advice, several colleagues disagree with it.

Kevin Flynn, who guided a package of ethics code changes through the council last year, sees council members as representatives of the same city government that’s providing the items and business trips. That makes the city officials lobbying them different, he said, from outside contractors that stand to benefit financially from the council’s decisions.

“Again, we are the airport. We are the city. We represent them and vote on their contract,” Flynn said, adding that the ethics board’s opinion “leads to a rabbit hole that was not intended to be there.”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver PostDenver Mayor Michael Hancock meets with new members of the City Council prior to taking the oath of office at the inauguration ceremony for his second term in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on July 20, 2015. From left are Kevin Flynn, Paul Kashmann, Jolon Clark, Rafael Espinoza and City Auditor Tim O’Brien. Should city offices be treated like contractors?

The diverging views of Espinoza and Flynn get at the crux of the philosophical — and legal — disagreement the ethics opinion has sparked, even if it still allows the giving of less-expensive items to council members.

In its Nov. 17 opinion, the board found that city agency-provided gifts meet the two thresholds required for restriction under the Code of Ethics: Council members are in a position to take direct official action over many city agencies — especially since they have approval power on contracts worth $500,000 or more — and the city has an ongoing relationship with the individual city departments or agencies providing the items to council members.

The board pointed to the council’s role as a “separate and independent branch of city government” as an additional justification, concluding: “The restrictions in the gift section of the Code of Ethics apply with equal force, whether gifts are from entities or persons inside or outside of city government.”

But three weeks after the opinion came out, city government pushed back on that reasoning.

Assistant city attorney Tracey A. Davis sent a letter to the board that asked for reconsideration. She argued that its advice was wrong because the charter and the ethics code consider departments and agencies to be subdivisions of the city. The city’s government as a whole enters into contracts, she wrote — whether they’re small ones negotiated and approved by a city official or larger ones approved by the council.

“The city and the department or agency are the same thing,” Davis wrote.

Her letter resulted in discussions between Davis and the Board of Ethics, first at its mid-December meeting and again at its meeting this past Wednesday.

Espinoza attended the December hearing. To underline how often council members receive free items, he said, he came wearing clothing provided by Denver International Airport: a knit cap, a puffy jacket branded with the airport’s DEN logo, and socks and a scarf that each featured DIA’s blue “Mustang” sculpture, colloquially known as “Blucifer.”

“I forgot my umbrella and growler,” he said in an interview, referring to one item given by DIA as a start-of-term welcome gift and another to commemorate a new direct flight to Munich, respectively.

Board holds firm, but council could pass change

Ethics board members weren’t inclined to budge on their stance at last week’s meeting — though Chairman Patrick Tooley told Davis that a formal written response that is likely to be issued early this week may add some clarification.

At one point in the discussion, board member Roy Wood compared city departments to for-profit businesses that engage in brand-building by giving out pens and trinkets with their logos on them.

“There’s a reason why they spend money on those water bottles,” he said, referring to water bottles that the parks department gave to council members recently to commemorate the opening of a new recreation center.

City officials, including a spokeswoman for DIA, disagreed that their motivation in giving gifts was to influence council members.

“There’s varying levels of stuff that we give or produce for various events, or when we’re celebrating an inaugural trip (for a new flight route) or if we give things to employees for the holidays,” said DIA’s Stacey Stegman. “In those instances, we always include council. We like to see high-profile members of our community wearing stuff with the airport brand on it. I think it looks good at community events — basically it’s advertising and promotion for the airport.”

As it stands, the advisory opinion isn’t binding on council members, though it could be used by the board to judge future ethics complaints brought against an elected official for accepting a gift or item worth more than $25. (An exclusion in the ethics code allows officials and employees to accept meals and tickets up to a $300-per-year limit from every donor with a city interest, requiring disclosure on public gift reports.)

And it’s still unclear how the opinion’s recommended restrictions would apply to some things, such as fact-finding trips like the ones to London and Amsterdam that DIA provided for most council members last summer to show them security setups, concession spaces and other inspirations for an upcoming terminal renovation.

Espinoza characterized the trips — which he didn’t join — as junkets meant to sway his colleagues on DIA’s controversial $1.8 billion terminal renovation partnership deal.

Flynn, though, said his trip helped him to understand the details of what DIA and its partner were proposing.

But it’s possible the ethics board’s advice might be rendered moot soon if the council approves an explicit exclusion for city-provided gifts to the Code of Ethics, as President Albus Brooks suggests is likely.

“At the end of the day, agencies are not … influencing council members with poinsettias that we don’t even take home,” Brooks said. “I think this is a distraction, and I think it’s going to be straightened out.”

Here are the advisory opinion issued by the Denver Board of Ethics and a request for reconsideration from the city attorney’s office:



Denver metro area school closures

2 hours 8 min ago

Updated at 2 a.m. Jan. 22, 2018

Denver metro area weather closures, accident alerts

On days with severe weather, school closures, government office closures and municipalities on accident alert will be updated throughout the day.

Even if government offices are open, some recreation center or daycare programs might be delayed or canceled — check their website by clicking the name in the list.

Take advantage of Facebook’s expanded security options to protect your digital life

2 hours 58 min ago

Q: How can I get an answer from Facebook? Periodically, I get a message saying they locked my account because someone tried to sign into it. They show a date, time and location and ask if it was me. Sometimes it was me, other times it wasn’t. No matter how I answer, I’m told that my account is secure, but I have to reset my password, which I then do. I’ve now changed my password seven times. My account works for a while. Then the same message re-appears. If my password catches an unauthorized attempt at access, why do I have to change it? I would like to know how to contact Facebook to see how I can fix this. Could you help me? ~ Bill Bradish, Littleton

Tech+ Passwords are a pain — and there’s a security movement to move on to something better.

Short answer to your question: Contact the company by going to your Facebook homepage and pressing the question mark in a circle in the top right corner. Then click “Report a Problem” and follow the directions.

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But first, getting an email to reset your Facebook password is definitely alarming at first. After several similar messages, something indeed should seem fishy. I touched on this a few years ago and a spokesman from Facebook responded with what likely has happened: Mistypes.

“You may receive an email from Facebook if someone requests a password reset after entering your email address. This can happen if someone mistypes their own email address when trying to regain access to their account. What’s important to remember is that receiving an email about a password reset request doesn’t impact the security of your account. There’s no need to change your password, but you can let us know if you didn’t make the request.”

But don’t just shrug this off. There really could be someone targeting your account. Facebook has rolled out other ways to protect accounts in ways that are similar to how Google, Amazon, your bank and others have expanded security options.

Within the security settings, you can have Facebook alert you when someone actually logs in from a device or browser you don’t normally use. Go to “Settings,” then “Security and Login,” and review the options.

There’s also an option to see recent emails from Facebook. This way you’ll know whether the strange message in your inbox actually came from Facebook — or whether it was a malicious phishing message trying to get you to share a password with a stranger. Here, you can also tell Facebook “I didn’t ask for this” message.

Getting suspicious emails like password resets from Facebook? In a user’s “Security and Login” settings, Facebook lets you tell the company whether you asked to reset your password or not. Shown here, Denver Post tech writer Tamara Chuang received six messages from Facebook that someone requested a password reset. Just click “I didn’t ask for this.”

Facebook also lets users pick up to five people as “trusted contacts” that will help you log into your account if you are having trouble.

Most importantly though, turn on two-factor authentication. This will require anyone who logs into your account to know the password and type in a code that is sent via text message to your phone (other options are available).

Of course, this won’t prevent everything — such as if someone steals my phone too — but my phone is also protected, making it more difficult for someone to break into the phone and then access my Facebook account, a pretty boring account anyway.

Hopefully Facebook isn’t your only concern when it comes to securing your digital life. Add two-factor authentication on critical sites like email accounts and bank accounts. If you are having to remember multiple passwords, try a password generator, such as LastPass or Dashlane (PCMag has reviews of its top 10 password managers at dpo.st/passwordmanagers). And if you’re too stubborn and insist on using the same password everywhere, please at least use a unique one just for your email — because if hackers get your email password, they have control of your digital life.

Past stories that offer more password and security tips:

Miss a week? Then subscribe to the new weekly Tech+ newsletter to get this week’s question and more delivered to your inbox. Sign up, see past Tech+ answers or ask your own tech question at dpo.st/mailbag. If you’re emailing your question, please add “Mailbag” to the subject line.



Ask Amy: Life with a hoarder has become a nightmare

3 hours 28 min ago

Dear Amy: My husband and I are in our mid-50s. We were married four years ago. We are both highly-educated professionals.

My husband bought his parents’ home almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, he is attached to the decaying belongings left by his parents and other relatives that lived in the house.

He promised me before I moved in that we would start clearing out the house and make the overdue and necessary renovations.

Over the years I have tried to understand his attachments; I’ve sought counseling for us, and tried to get him to talk with a de-clutter specialist. He will have none of it. I have done what I can to clear it out, but it has been a constant battle.

Last summer, neighbors filed complaints about our home with the county. We were told that our job was to get rid of the stuff! We were supposed to meet with a contractor next weekend.

Last night he got a box and began clearing out bags of old twist ties, wine bottle corks, broken utensils, etc.

I said, “Where is that going?” He said, “Into the basement; I will go through it later.” He then said that he does not want to renovate the house, he is not getting rid of anything and he never confirmed the meeting with the contractor.

He basically said that if I want to leave, I should. Amy, if the house and all this stuff means so much to him, then why doesn’t he take care of it? Everything is just heaped in piles.

It is becoming more difficult for me to live here. I’m having nightmares about being suffocated by an avalanche of stuff!

Should I figure out a way to live with this, or should I move on?

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— Worried Wife

Dear Worried: Your husband seems to have a hoarding disorder. My reading on this is that it both relieves and produces extreme anxiety, and that it is a tough and persistent illness.

Your husband’s need to keep — rather than discard or recycle — what is basically trash (detritus in the “junk drawer”) is a sign of how deeply involved he is. His unwillingness (or inability) to make any changes or seek help tells you that his illness is calling the shots.

I do not offer this lightly, but in my opinion, you do need to leave this household. At this point, your own mental health is at risk. The nightmares you have about being buried beneath a mountain of stuff are revealing your very real fears.

Perhaps you can continue to love your husband from a (tidier) distance and support him in getting the help he needs. Counseling — for you — will help you through this tough transition.

Dear Amy: My son “Kevin” has been married for 15 years. They have three beautiful children.

My daughter-in-law “Brenda” and I have always been very close.

Kevin and Brenda recently got a divorce.

Kevin now has a new girlfriend, “Kristen.” She has never tried to get to know me. She seems to be threatened by my relationship with Brenda.

Kristen sends me nasty texts telling me that she knows that Brenda and I are talking about her (we’re not).

I brought this to my son’s attention and asked that she stop sending these nasty texts, but he doesn’t seem to care that she’s being disrespectful to me.

This has made me feel very uncomfortable about going over my son’s house.

Should I hold out for an apology from her?

I have a feeling that no matter what I say to her it won’t matter.

Please help!

— Uncomfortable Mama

Dear Mama: If you are receiving texts that make you uncomfortable, the first thing you should do is block that number from your phone, so you won’t see them.

The next thing is to accept that your son has someone else in his life and do your best to get to know her. That means communicating respectfully (in person), even if you feel she is not.

If you don’t handle this well, you risk estrangement from your son and his children.

Dear Amy: Thank you for your compassion toward “Angry Father,” who is wrestling with his rage after his wife’s death. I agree that meeting with a “grief group” could be very helpful for him. It has made a world of difference to me.

— Also Grieving

Dear Also Grieving: Meeting with others who gather to talk and support one another can help to heal from a loss. I know because I’ve done it.



Outdoor industry’s gender equity grows as companies elevate women

7 hours 42 min ago

In what is emerging as the Year of Women, the outdoor industry is leading the charge in elevating more women into leadership positions.

With women unleashing their power in Hollywood and technology industries grappling to advance women into top offices, outdoor businesses — which gather this week in Denver for the newly blended Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show — are boasting progress in promoting women.

“You can’t be succeeding in the women’s market if it’s just guys around the table,” said Donna Carpenter, the chief executive of Burton Snowboards who has prioritized gender equity with a goal of 51 percent women leaders in her company, 51 percent of Burton’s sales to women and more than half of all snowboarders being women. “You have to have women in strategic decision making. The outdoor industry has an opportunity here to say, ‘Hey, we take this seriously.’ ”

“We’ve got to band together an industry,” she said. “We can flex our muscle here if we do this as an industry-wide initiative.”

Two years ago, Boulder’s Camber Outdoors, a 22-year-old group promoting women’s equality in the outdoor industry, launched its own CEO Pledge, with about a dozen companies committed to bolster leadership opportunities for women. Since 2015, more than 75 outdoor company executives have committed to attract, retain and advance more women as a cornerstone business strategy, including bosses from Burton, W.L. Gore, CamelBak, Specialized, SRAM, Patagonia, REI and Arc’teryx.

The tech industry has struggled to elevate more women into leadership positions. Apple in November reported that its worldwide workforce in 2017 was 68 percent male and 32 percent female, roughly the same breakdown as 2016 but an increase in the number of women working for the tech giant over the previous three years. The cybersecurity world, scrambling to fill almost 2 million jobs by 2022, is eyeing women to grow more diverse teams that can identify and fight unknown threats.

Camber released a report Monday describing how the work has unfolded in the $887 billion outdoor industry, with executives describing the internal policies they’ve used to recruit women and keep the female employees they have moving up the corporate ladder. CamelBak has increased the number of women engineering its gear from zero to 30 percent of the total by developing relationships with schools. Burton boosted retention of workers in jobs that require a lot of travel with an infant-travel policy that covers care — in-home or on the road — for the first 18 months of a child’s life.

The outdoor industry’s growing push to advance more women dovetails the industry’s unified effort to become a social, political and economic force capable of swaying public policy. The outdoor industry can and should be a role model for all other industries, Camber Outdoors executive director Deanne Buck said.

“I think a lot of the efforts we are seeing right now in other industries, the ‘how to get there’ is the centerpiece. If a company or industry is always trying to solve the problem, versus working toward a common end state, then success will always be defined on where the problem is versus where you are in the journey toward a collective vision,” Buck said, noting that other businesses and industries beyond the outdoors have adopted programs similar to the CEO Pledge.

While many companies find women leaders in their search to sell more stuff to women, other companies, like Burton, are more than a decade into the advancement of female decision makers.

“I don’t envy companies who are only now finding themselves in this moment,” said Carpenter, who 14 years ago started the Burton’s Women’s Leadership Initiative to help balance the push to sell more women’s gear by having more women making decisions at the company.

Burton’s 36-year-old Burton Open competition has always offered equal prize money to men and women. Years ago Carpenter noticed the company sold a snowboard for little boys, but not girls. She pushed for a girl-friendly ride and, in the first year, sales soared 250 percent beyond projections.

But hiring women isn’t about selling to women, she said.

“This has even another component, which is talent,” Carpenter said. “You want the most talented women in the country to say ‘Hey, I can make a career in the outdoor business.’ And if you don’t have diversity, you are not going to have innovation and you are not going to be able to recruit the best talent.”

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The outdoor industry’s efforts to recruit more women bosses is not that different from any other industry. And really, the industry is not that different from any other, with armies of engineers designing advanced equipment like skis, bikes and high-end clothing instead of, say, televisions, computers or phones.

“It really is a tech industry wrapped in fun,” Buck said.

But it is different, with its growing slate of female chieftains proving it is able to make the cultural shift that challenges its tech counterparts.

“This industry has said ‘yes’ to women and has done the hard work with really having a road map,” Buck said. “And the work is continuing. My hope is that in five years we look back and say the outdoor industry figured it out when no one else could and has 50 percent of women in leadership.”



Same-sex active-duty couple marries at West Point

7 hours 55 min ago

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Two Army captains who met at West Point returned there to be married, in what is believed to be the first same-sex marriage of active-duty personnel at the storied New York military academy.

The New York Times reported Captains Daniel Hall, 30, and Vincent Franchino, 26, both Apache helicopter pilots stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, were married at West Point’s Cadet Chapel on Jan. 13.

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The men met at the school in August 2009, when Franchino was a freshman and Hall was a senior. Their first date was in February 2012 in Washington, some months after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in September 2011.

That policy, in place since 1993, barred any gay person from disclosing their sexual orientation or talking about any same-sex relationship.

“It’s really frustrating when two people have feelings for each other but are not allowed to act on them,” Hall said. “We were serving under a policy that was telling all of us — perfectly capable soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines — to lie about ourselves.”

The men wore their uniforms during the ceremony, and left the chapel under an arch made up of sabers held aloft by several of their guests. They also used Hall’s officer saber, a graduation gift from his grandparents, to cut the cake.



Droves fill pope’s final Mass in restive Latin America trip

7 hours 59 min ago

LIMA, Peru — More than 1 million people turned out Sunday for Pope Francis’ final Mass in Peru, giving him a warm and heartfelt farewell that contrasted sharply with the outcry he caused in neighboring Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slandering a bishop.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who publicly rebuked the pope on Saturday for those remarks, joined the pontiff and dozens of fellow bishops on a tented altar at a Lima airfield to celebrate the Mass. The crowd of 1.3 million people reported by the Vatican was the largest of Francis’ weeklong, two-nation visit.

Francis tried to move beyond the scandal Sunday, joking with cloistered nuns that they were taking advantage of his visit to finally get out and get a breath of fresh air. And he denounced a corruption scandal in Latin America that has even implicated his Peruvian host, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who recently survived an impeachment vote by lawmakers.

In his homily Francis referred to the “grave sin of corruption,” that kills the hope of people, urging Peruvians to have hope and show tenderness and compassion.

Thousands lined the streets as his black papal Fiat made its way to the airport, where a children’s choir sang in farewell as Francis boarded a plane to head back to Rome.

Earlier in the day, he said the bribery scandal centered on Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht was “just a small anecdote” of the corruption and graft that have thrown much of Latin American politics into crisis.

“If we fall into the hands of people who only understand the language of corruption, we’re toast,” the pope said in unscripted remarks.

Francis was greeted by cheering crowds at nearly every stop of his Peru trip, but the cloud of sex abuse scandal trailed him.

“Francis, here there IS proof,” read a banner hanging from a Lima building along his motorcade route Sunday.

The message was a reference both to Peru’s own abuse scandal and to Francis’ Jan. 18 comments in Iquique, Chile, that there was not “one shred of proof” to allegations that a protege of that country’s most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, knew of Karadima’s abuse and did nothing to stop it.

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Karadima’s victims have accused the bishop, Juan Barros, of witnessing the abuse and of complicity in covering it up. Barros has denied the accusations, and Francis backed him by saying the victims’ claims were “all calumny.”

Francis’ remarks that he would only believe victims with “proof” were problematic because they were already deemed so credible by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2011 based on their testimony. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.

The pope’s comments sparked such an outcry that both O’Malley, Francis’ own top adviser on abuse, and the Chilean government made the highly rare decision to publicly rebuke him — an extraordinary correction of a pontiff from both church and state. The criticisms were all the more remarkable given that they came on the Argentina-born pontiff’s home turf in Latin America.

O’Malley said Saturday that Francis’ remarks were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse,” and that such expressions of disbelief made abuse survivors feel abandoned and left in “discredited exile.”

Chilean government spokeswoman Paula Narvaez said there was an “ethical imperative to respect victims of sexual abuse, believe them and support them.”

The issue also had resonance in Peru. Last week the Vatican took over a Peru-based Roman Catholic lay movement, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, more than six years after first learning of sexual, physical and psychological abuse committed by its founder.

An independent investigation commissioned by the movement found that founder Luis Figari sodomized his recruits, forced them to fondle him and one another, liked to watch them “experience pain, discomfort and fear” and humiliated them in front of others. Figari’s victims have criticized the Vatican for its years of inaction and for eventually sanctioning him with what they consider a “golden exile” — retirement in Italy at a retreat house, albeit separated from the community he founded.

The banner hanging from the building along Francis’ motorcade route referred to evidence against Figari and featured a photo of him. Peruvian prosecutors recently announced they wanted to arrest him.

But for the most part, Peruvians welcomed him with open arms and flooded in huge droves to his final Mass. In contrast, Francis’ send-off from Chile drew only 50,000 people, a fraction of the number expected.

“He is a symbol to us as Catholics,” said Cindy Sanchez, a 24-year-old administrative assistant attending the Mass. “Listening to him gives us encouragement.”

During his seven-day trip in Chile and Peru, Francis personally apologized to survivors of priests who sexually abused them, traveled deep into the Amazon to meet with indigenous leaders, decried the scourge of violence against women in Latin America and urged the Chilean government and radical factions of the Mapuche indigenous group to peacefully resolve one of the region’s longest-running disputes.

But the pope also attracted unprecedented rejection: At least a dozen churches across Chile were set aflame, and riot police shot tear gas at and arrested protesters in the capital, Santiago.

Associated Press writers Christine Armario and Franklin Briceno contributed to this report from Lima.



Up to 1,000 more U.S. troops could be headed to Afghanistan this spring

8 hours 3 min ago

The U.S. Army is readying plans that could increase the total force in Afghanistan by as many as 1,000 U.S. troops this spring beyond the 14,000 already in the country, senior military officials said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has not signed off on the proposals for the new forces, which are part of a broader strategy to bolster Afghan forces so that they can pound the Taliban during the upcoming fighting season.

The possible increases have the support of the Army’s senior leadership, which has been working to determine the mix of troops required to execute a strategy centered on a new combat formation.

The discussions at the Pentagon underscore the complex task the U.S. military faces as it prepares to deploy newly created combat advisory teams to some of the most violent, remote and heavily contested areas of Afghanistan.

The Obama administration, as part of its plan to wind down the Afghanistan war in 2015, limited advisers to higher headquarters far from the fighting. The new strategy that President Donald Trump approved in August would push U.S. advisory teams to the battalion level, far closer to the front lines.

“This is a concept that got accelerated for Afghanistan, and it has been quite a process,” a senior military official said of the plan to send the U.S. Army’s first-ever Security Force Assistance Brigade to Afghanistan early this spring. “It has been a roller coaster.” The official, who is involved in the troop planning, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military planning.

Military officials said that some troops, particularly at the headquarters level, might come out of Afghanistan as new forces move into the theater and that they expect the total force this spring to be about 15,000 troops.

Trump’s plan for the war increased the number of troops from 8,500 when he took office to about 14,000 today. The president also lifted restrictions on U.S. warplanes, triggering a major spike this winter in airstrikes aimed at Taliban formations and its leadership.

A spokesman for Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said U.S. Forces Afghanistan had not specifically asked for an increase in troop levels, suggesting the increase, if approved, would be considered an adjustment under the current plan rather than an increase associated with a shift in strategy.

The White House might want to weigh in on any plan to send additional troops to Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.

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Even as he signed off on the new war strategy, Trump has expressed misgivings about sending more resources into a conflict that has been grinding on with few signs of progress.

Senior administration officials said that the president has been known to affect an Indian accent and imitate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in an Oval Office meeting last year told him, “Never has a country given so much away for so little in return” as the United States in Afghanistan.

To Trump, Modi’s statement was proof that the rest of the world viewed the United States as being duped and taken advantage of in Afghanistan, these officials said.

Despite those misgivings, Trump has largely left execution of the war plan to the Pentagon, with little of the intense oversight that occurred during the Obama administration. At the time, Pentagon officials viewed the restrictions put on the campaign by the Obama White House as micromanagement.

But Trump has made it clear to senior Pentagon officials that he wants to see a quick return on the increased U.S. investment in troops and money in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials are also under pressure to keep troop numbers from growing significantly.

Nicholson said in the fall that the additional U.S. advisers and firepower will allow Afghan military and police forces to take control of 80 percent of the country in the next two years. Currently, the Afghan government controls about two-thirds of the country, with most of the rest controlled by the Taliban or contested.

The combination of the White House’s insistence on quick progress and a desire to have the Afghan army take the lead in the fight has led to a sometimes heated debate inside the military over how best to support the Afghan forces.

At the core of the debate is the Army’s new Security Force Assistance Brigade, a concept that was developed under the direction of Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army’s top general in the Pentagon. Unlike a traditional brigade, the unit does not come with any junior enlisted soldiers or junior officers and is broken up into 36 teams, each consisting of 12 soldiers, that can be parceled out among the forces they are advising.

The new unit is the product of lessons from the long insurgent conflicts following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the U.S. military has struggled to build cohesive and effective indigenous forces at a reasonable cost in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is a test of the whole principle,” retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said of the brigade’s upcoming deployment. The driving theory behind the new units is that specially trained advisers can mentor and assist foreign forces more effectively than regular combat forces.

Under the previous model, “it was always the first day of school” for regular soldiers showing up in Afghanistan to serve as advisers, Barno said.

The concept has drawn mixed reviews from the Army, which has long resisted the concept of advisory brigades that some Army officials worry are being built at the expense of more traditional brigades and will bleed combat power from the larger Army force.

Each 12-soldier team includes a medic, intelligence support and a person specially trained to call in airstrikes from circling U.S. Air Force planes.

But senior Army officials say that to be effective in Afghanistan, where the heaviest fighting occurs in remote areas, the teams need to bring extra support from attack helicopters, artillery units, intelligence troops and medical evacuation forces.

The additional forces would provide protection for U.S. troops that could be operating far from major cities and their higher headquarters. The extra capacity also increases their value to the Afghan forces.



Jordan urges Pence to “rebuild trust” after Jerusalem pivot

8 hours 12 min ago

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s king appealed Sunday to Vice President Mike Pence to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following fallout from the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pence tried to reassure the monarch that the U.S. was committed to restarting peace efforts and to a two-state solution, if both sides agree. Such a caveat deviates from long-standing U.S. support for that approach as the only possible outcome of any peace deal.

Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem last month infuriated the Palestinians, who seek the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as a future capital. They accused the U.S. of siding with Israel and said Washington can no longer serve as a mediator.

Jerusalem is the emotional centerpiece of the long-running conflict, and Trump’s policy shift set off protests and condemnation across Arab and Muslim countries.

It posed a dilemma for Abdullah, a staunch U.S. ally who derives his political legitimacy in large part from the Hashemite dynasty’s role as guardian of a key Muslim site in Jerusalem. Any perceived threat to Muslim claims in the city is seen as a challenge to Jordan, where a large segment of the population is of Palestinian origin.

Pence told the king that the U.S. has committed “to continue to respect Jordan’s role as the custodian of holy sites, that we take no position on boundaries and final status.” It was a message Pence relayed Saturday in talks with Egypt’s president.

Later, after meeting U.S. troops near the Syrian border, Pence said he and Abdullah had “a very frank discussion.”

“Look, friends occasionally have disagreements and we agreed to disagree on the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But what we agreed on was the need for all parties to come back to the table,” Pence said.

“The Palestinian Authority has been absent from direct negotiations since 2014. And I hope I impressed upon King Abdullah our earnest desire to restart the peace process,” Pence said.

Abdullah expressed concerns about the regional fallout from the Jerusalem decision.

“Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations,” he said. He described the Pence visit as a mission “to rebuild trust and confidence” in getting to a two-state solution, in which a state of Palestine would be established in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

Another cause of concern for Jordan is the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jordan vehemently opposes such a move if taken ahead of an Israeli-Palestinian partition deal.

Israel views Jerusalem as its unified capital.

An international consensus has long held that the city’s final status should be decided through negotiations, which was also U.S. policy going back decades.

Palestinians view Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a blatantly one-sided move.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not meet with Trump administration officials and called off a meeting with Pence that had been scheduled for mid-December.

In a new expression of that snub, Abbas overlapped with Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to midday Sunday, when the Palestinian leader flew to Brussels for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers Monday. There, Abbas is expected to urge EU member states to recognize a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 lines, and to step up involvement in mediation.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas adviser, reiterated that “the U.S. is no longer acceptable as a mediator.”

Pence was scheduled to hold meetings on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Netanyahu called Pence “a great friend of Israel” and said there was “no alternative for American leadership” in the peace process. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace — does not want peace,” he said at a meeting of ambassadors in Jerusalem.

Palestinians in the West Bank protested Pence’s arrival by burning posters with his image on them.

Associated Press writer Karin Laub contributed to this report.



Women’s marches organizers hope to keep building momentum

8 hours 16 min ago

LAS VEGAS — Thousands of people poured into a football stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday, the anniversary of women’s marches around the world, to cap off a weekend of global demonstrations that participants hope will continue building momentum for equality, justice and an end to sexual harassment.

“This is a birthday party for a movement that has only begun to flex its power to change this democracy,” Anna Galland, the executive director of the progressive group moveon.org, told the boisterous crowd.

Following marches that drew huge crowds across the U.S. on Saturday, one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, protesters gathered Sunday on multiple continents, including in London, Paris, Sydney, Madrid and Buenos Aires.

The events culminated with the Las Vegas rally, which launched an effort to register 1 million voters and target swing states such as Nevada in the U.S. midterm elections later this year, which could shift control of Congress. Organizers said they are planning future events in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas.

Paula Beaty, 53, a tech worker from Durham, North Carolina, attended the Las Vegas rally wearing an outfit recalling the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century. She cited the difference women made in helping Democrat Doug Jones upset conservative Republican Roy Moore for a Senate seat in Alabama in December.

“For us it’s all about women’s rights and we’re seeing them be eroded with Trump in office,” Beaty said. “The women made a difference in Alabama and we’re hoping we can flip the House and Senate with the power of women.”

There was also a push for women to not just register as voters, but as candidates. Democratic Idaho state Rep. Paulette Jordan, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, drew an immense cheer when she told the crowd she was running to be not only Idaho’s first female governor, but the first Native American woman to be governor in any state. She implored other women to join her in running for office.

“This is Idaho’s future. This is the future of America,” she said.

The demonstrations came at a time of reckoning for many men in Hollywood, the media and other industries as women speak out about sexual misconduct and inequity in general. Among the speakers in Las Vegas was singer and actress Cher.

“This is one of the worst times in our history and that’s why I honestly believe that women are going to be the ones that fix it,” Cher told the crowd. “Stay strong and remember if you don’t have a vote, you don’t have a voice.”

Those who took part in this year’s events said they were galvanized by an avalanche of political and gender issues over the past year, as well as the #MeToo movement, which has been credited with countering widespread sexual abuse and misconduct.

Many of the marchers not only supported women’s rights, but also denounced Trump’s views on issues including immigration, abortion and LGBT rights. Demonstrators denounced Trump’s views with colorful signs and even saltier language.

Trump dismissed the suggestion that his presidency has been bad for women. He tweeted Saturday that it was a “perfect day” for women to march to celebrate the “economic success and wealth creation” of his first year in office.

“Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months,” the Republican wrote. “Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

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In Palm Beach, Florida, home to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, several hundred people marched Saturday carrying anti-Trump signs. A group of women wearing red cloaks and white hats like the characters in the book and television versions of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which imagines a future in which women’s rights have been strictly limited, walked in formation with their heads bowed.

In the British capital Sunday, demonstrators carried placards reading “We Are Powerful” and “Time’s Up” and chanted outside Prime Minister Theresa May’s office as they raised grievances ranging from workplace inequities to misogynistic abuse on social media.

“Today is a call for action to bring about change,” London protest co-organizer Shola Mos-Shogbamimu said. “This is so much more than Trump.'”

The London event drew thousands of people despite sleet and snow. Heavy rain fell on Paris protesters who gathered near the Eiffel Tower, which could have been a factor in the small number of participants compared to the U.S. marches on Saturday.

“It doesn’t matter if the weather is like this,” Maggie Kim, who was one of the more than 100 people who didn’t let the rain and cold deter them. “We’re still coming together, and we’re going to still fight against Trump and his agenda.”

Gene Johnson in Seattle, Danica Kirka in London, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Chris Blake in Sydney and Jo Kearney in London contributed to this story.



Skier dies in avalanche near Silverton

8 hours 46 min ago

A backcountry skier died in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado off Red Mountain Pass near Silverton on Sunday after an avalanche ripped down through a couloir and into a gully.

The skier was “caught, killed” while sliding in an area known as Sam’s Trees, at about 11,200 feet elevation, according to a bulletin from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

CAIC staff had visited the site but provided few details. The bulletin said CAIC would put out a report this week.

San Miguel County Search and Rescue crew members issued a notice calling this Colorado’s first avalanche fatality of 2018 and urging backcountry travelers to be vigilant. More than 20 inches of snow fell within 24 hours in the northern San Juan Mountains. Such conditions make it more likely than usual that people in the backcountry will trigger an avalanche.

According to CAIC records, more than 100 people have died in avalanches across the United States since 2006.

Hover over map areas for details.


Source: Colorado Avalanche Information Center



Mexico posts highest homicide rate in decades

9 hours 8 min ago

MEXICO CITY — Mexico posted its highest homicide rate in decades, with the government reporting Sunday there were 29,168 murders in 2017, a 27 percent increase over 2016.

The number is the highest since comparable records began being kept in 1997 and is also higher than the peak year of Mexico’s drug war in 2011, when there were 27,213 killings.

The Interior Department, which posted the number, reported the country’s homicide rate was 20.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, compared to 19.4 in 2011.

But Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope said Mexico’s murder rate is probably higher than the Interior Department statistics show, because the department does the per 100,000 count based on the number of murder investigations, not the number of victims, and a killing may result in more than one victim. Hope says the real homicide rate is probably around 24 per 100,000.

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet last week claiming Mexico is “now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world,” there are several nations in Latin America with higher rates.

Brazil and Colombia had about 27 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, still well below Venezuela’s 57 per 100,000, according to a World Bank report. El Salvador reported a rate of 60.8 for 2017.

Several U.S. cities, including St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Detroit, also had higher rates.

But some parts of Mexico were singularly violent: The Pacific coast state of Colima had a rate of 93.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Baja California Sur, home to the twin resort towns of Los Cabos, had a rate of 69.1. Guerrero, home to the resort town of Acapulco, had a rate of 64.2.

While President Enrique Pena Nieto campaigned on a pledge to end the violence that occurred during his predecessors’ 2006-2012 offensive against drug cartels, there was only a temporary drop in killings between 2012 and 2014.

By 2015, killings began rising again, and 2017 was the bloodiest year, probably since the early 1990s.

This year promises to be even bloodier. During the first few days of 2018 in just the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, nine people were killed, dismembered and had their body parts stuffed into a van in the state capital of Xalapa.

The grisly scene — literally a jumbled pile of human limbs and torsos topped by a threatening note apparently signed by the Zetas drug gang — was reminiscent of the mass dumping of bodies in the state in 2011.

Earlier in the new year, five severed heads were found arranged on the hood of a taxi in the tourist town of Tlacotalpan, Veracruz and four others found in another city in the same state.

Experts say drug violence and other factors, such as bloody turf battles sparked by the expansion of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, played a role in Mexico’s rising murder rate.

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But Hope says the problem is complex.

“The violence in Mexico has many causes. Drug trafficking is one of them, of course, but it is not the only one,” said Hope. “There are social triggers, institutional ones, historical ones, issues of land rights, it is complex.”

In fact, Hope argues, the period from 1997 to 2007, when murder rates in Mexico plunged to as low as 9.3 murders per 100,000, was in fact the exception.

“What we have seen in the last decade is regression to the mean” that prevailed throughout much of the 20th century, he said. “The anomaly is the decade before this one.”

Hope says murder rates now are about where they were in the mid-20th century.

“The violence was different then, no doubt, but your possibility of being murdered in the 1930s was considerably higher than it is now.”



Afghan forces end Taliban siege at Kabul hotel; 18 dead

9 hours 23 min ago

KABUL, Afghanistan — Security forces said Sunday they had killed the last of six Taliban militants to end an overnight siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel that left at least 18 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some of the 150 guests fled the gunbattle and fire sparked by the assault by shimmying down bedsheets from the upper floors.

The militants, who wore suicide vests, pinned down security forces for more than 13 hours after the attack began about 9 p.m. Saturday. The gunmen roamed the hallways and targeted foreigners and Afghan officials inside the luxury, hilltop hotel.

The more than 150 people who were rescued or managed to escape included 41 foreigners, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish. Of those, 10 people were injured, including six security forces, he said.

Eleven of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline, Danish said. KamAir put out a statement saying some of its flights were disrupted because of the attack.

Six of those killed were Ukrainians, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who added that his office was working with Afghan law enforcement agencies “to clarify the circumstances of this terrorist act.”

Two Venezuelan pilots for KamAir were among the dead, according to Luis Figuera. He told The Associated Press that his brother-in-law, Adelsis Ramos, was killed along with Pablo Chiossone, and that their bodies were identified by another Venezuelan pilot at a Kabul hospital.

A citizen from Kazakhstan also was among the dead at the hotel, according to Anuar Zhainakov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were at the hotel for a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.

Afghan officials said that also among the dead was a telecommunications official from Farah province in western Afghanistan; Waheed Poyan, the newly appointed consul general to Karachi, Pakistan; and Ahmad Farzan, an employee of the High Peace Council, a commission created to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other opposition groups.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the heavily guarded hotel that is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials.

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to strike the hotel Thursday night but postponed it because a wedding was underway there and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property.

Mumtaz Ahmad, a provincial telecommunication employee for Helmand province, said he was walking from his room to the reception for his group on Saturday night.

“When the elevator door opened, I saw two armed suicide bombers. People were escaping and the attackers were firing at them,” he said.

Fire broke out in the six-story hotel as the fighting raged, filling some guest rooms with smoke. Explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. Live TV video showed people trying to escape through windows and from the upper stories as thick, black smoke poured from the building.

The Interior Ministry said it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building. It said a private company had taken over security about three weeks ago at the hotel, which is not part of the Intercontinental chain.

During a news conference, Danish said that an initial investigation showed that six insurgents entered the hotel from the northern side and stormed its kitchen. A person or persons inside the hotel might have helped the attackers gain entrance, Danish said, adding that the investigation is continuing.

Two of the attackers were killed by special forces on the 6th floor of the hotel.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces had led the response efforts and that no foreign troops were hurt in the attack, according to initial reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States strongly condemns the attack, adding that Washington “stands with the government and people of Afghanistan. We remain firmly committed to supporting Afghan efforts to achieve peace, security and prosperity for their country.”

Neighboring Pakistan also condemned the “brutal terrorist attack” and called for greater cooperation against militants.

Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists on their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of big attacks in recent years.

In other violence in Afghanistan this weekend, insurgents burst into a home in Balkh province in the north where several members of a pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western province of Farah, a roadside bomb early Sunday killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western province of Herat, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant bombs to target Afghan security forces.



Two Fort Carson soldiers killed in helicopter crash during training in California

9 hours 45 min ago

Two Fort Carson soldiers died Saturday in a helicopter crash during training in the Southern California desert, officials said.

An AH-64 Apache crashed about 1 a.m. at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.

Both soldiers killed were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, said Maj. Gen. Randy A. George, the commander of the Colorado Springs Army post. Their identities have not been released, pending notification of next of kin.

The fatal crash will trigger at least two investigations. Commanders will kick off an inquiry and a second probe will be conducted by experts at the Army Safety Center in Alabama. Most crash investigations take at least three months.

Read the full story at The Gazette.



Angelique Kerber pulls through a surprising challenge at Australian Open, faces Madison Keys next

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 23:55

MELBOURNE, Australia — Angelique Kerber remains the only Grand Slam singles winner in the Australian Open women’s draw after surviving a frustrating fourth-round match.

For a while, though, it appeared the former No. 1-ranked Kerber’s progress may have unraveled against No. 88-ranked Hsieh Su-wei, a former No. 1-ranked doubles player with a double-handed grip on both sides.

With a mix of slice and chips, lobs and bunts, whippy half-volleys and wristy crosscourt ground strokes off both wings, Hsieh pushed Kerber to the extremes and unsettled her rhythm. The 2016 champion finally got a succession of breaks to take the second set and dominate the third in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory on Monday afternoon.

“Credit to her. She played an unbelievable match,” said Kerber, who won the Australian and U.S. Open titles and reached No. 1 in 2016. “I was feeling I was running everywhere. She was playing a lot of corners and drop shots. I was bringing a lot of balls back.”

After holding it together to improve her winning streak to 13 matches, Kerber faces U.S. Open quarterfinalist Madison Keys in the quarterfinals.

Keys returned to the quarterfinals here for the first time in three years with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 8-seeded Caroline Garcia. She is yet to drop a set at Melbourne Park and is averaging a brisk 62.5 minutes on court through her first four rounds.

Going into the fourth round, Keys had only dropped 14 games — the second fewest among the women through three rounds, just behind Kerber’s 13 games.

Keys, the only American woman to reach the fourth round, said she feels like she’s playing without pressure since returning from her wrist injury that forced her out of last year’s Australian Open.

“I definitely realize how much l love it and how much pressure I put on myself” in the past, she said. “Just being really happy to be back out here and not at home in a cast.”

Hsieh certainly made the most of her time in Melbourne, returning to the fourth round at a major for the first round in a decade — she lost to Justine Henin here in the round of 16 in 2008.

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She has won two Grand Slam doubles titles, and was ranked No. 1 in doubles in 2014. At 32, she was oldest woman still in the draw and had a career-high ranking of No. 23 in 2013. She’s still in the doubles draw at Melbourne Park.

On the men’s side, Tomas Berdych returned to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the seventh time after a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Fabio Fognini.

Berdych has been this far at Melbourne Park for seven of the last eight years. The only time he’s failed to reach at least the quarters was last year when he lost in the third round to Roger Federer.

He could meet Federer again in the next round, if second-ranked Federer wins his fourth-round match against Marton Fucsovics later Monday.



Jenkins: Another Patriots Super Bowl appearance wasn’t inevitable. But it sure seemed that way.

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 23:35

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots always make it look unpreventable, as if there was nothing anyone could have done to keep them out of another Super Bowl.

What were the Jacksonville Jaguars supposed to do in the fourth quarter, force feed Tom Brady some sugar, maybe, or plant a high-pitched whine in Coach Bill Belichick’s headset or sink some lead in Danny Amendola‘s ballet shoes? They still would find a way to break their heart into pieces and leave it strewn on the field, along with the crumpled paper cups.

But it was not inevitable, any of it. And that’s the thing to impress on your memory, for the years down the line when you want to tell somebody that you got to watch this organization in its heyday and what they were like. No other team would have seen this as doable: down by 10 points; their 40-year-old quarterback with stitches in his bandaged throwing hand; their best receiver, Rob Gronkowski, in the locker room with his head ringing from a concussion; and their opponents outmuscling them all over the field. The Jaguars were leading 20-10 with under 10 minutes to go, and the Patriots couldn’t seem to find a play that worked. The Jaguars were young and muscular and raw and underrated, and they came with the punch-in-the-mouth power of Blake Bortles and running back Leonard Fournette.

“I mean, we had it right where we wanted it,” Jaguars safety Barry Church said.

But when it was done, it seemed like an inescapable conclusion. Of course Brady and Amendola found a way to score two touchdowns in the last 8:44, and of course the Patriots won the AFC championship game, 24-20, at Gillette Stadium to make the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons and eighth out of the past 17. Of course an offense that had seemed like the engine wouldn’t turn over — and hadn’t converted on a third down in the first half — suddenly found big plays when they had to have them — including that third and 18 when Brady reared back and delivered an absolute javelin over the middle to Amendola, on the drive that cut the difference to a three points, and all of a sudden 66,000 people were screaming the lyrics to “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

“When we need it most, that’s when we play the best,” Belichick said in that toneless basin of a voice.

Of course a defense that had been pushed around for much of the day made the only stop that finally mattered, when Stephon Gilmore raced down the sideline with Dede Westbrook toward the end zone and reached up a long arm to swat away Bortles’s very catchable pass with 1:47 to go.

“We had a two-minute drive at the end of the game to win the AFC championship, so there’s not a whole lot more you can ask for than that,” Bortles said afterward. “You got to take advantage of that and find a way to win.”

Never in their recent history had the Patriots seemed more at a disadvantage. Don’t forget, they had lost Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower, their best skill player and their best defender, to early-season injuries and started the season 2-2. When they lost Gronkowski to that helmet-to-helmet blow from Church just before halftime, it seemed like just too many losses to overcome.

Then there was the matter of Brady’s hand injury, which was apparently more serious than anyone suspected. The Patriots under Belichick, son of a Navy man, are renowned for treating the smallest pieces of information as high-level intelligence, and Brady’s hand became an exercise in the art of covertness. It took all week for the specifics of his injury to trickle out, and details in the unconfirmed reports varied: Apparently it happened early in practice Wednesday, when he somehow cut his hand in a freak accident during a collision with running back Rex Burkhead. Depending on who you listened to, he needed either four stitches or 10, he either screamed when it happened or didn’t, and it might have bent his thumb back or not.

Brady canceled two news conferences, and when he finally appeared in public Friday, he did so wearing large red gloves. He was listed as questionable to start. Even on Sunday morning when Brady arrived at the stadium for work, he walked past the cameras with his hands planted firmly in the pockets of his parka, not giving anything away.

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When he finally took the field, his right hand was swathed in a piece of wide black bandaging from his thumb area to the wrist, and his mood was chippy. As he jogged on to the field, a cameraman moved in close. “F— out the way,” Brady yelled.

It had been, as Amendola said, “stressful.” On Wednesday, Brady had wondered whether he would be able to play at all, and it wasn’t until Friday in practice that the Patriots knew he would be able throw normally.

“I never had anything like it,” he said Sunday night. “I’ve had a couple of crazy injuries, but nothing like this. … I thought, out of all the plays, my season can’t end on a handoff in practice.”

But it was all an exercise in Patriots cohesion — and in stone-faced focus. Other teams might get rattled by the uncertain status of their quarterback. Not this one. “Toughest guy I ever met,” Amendola said. On the toughest team anyone ever saw, led by the toughest coach, one that is utterly convinced that “it’s going to be a 60-minute fight, and we’re going to have a chance at the end of the game no matter how far down we are,” Amendola said.



WATCH: U.S. Soccer’s Julie Ertz reacts to her husband, Zack Ertz, and the Eagles advancing to the Super Bowl

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 23:14

As soon as the whistle blew here in San Diego, we had some good news for @julieertz…💚🦅@ZERTZ_86 & the @Eagles are heading to the @SuperBowl! pic.twitter.com/dI5MvG53VR

— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) January 22, 2018

After helping the U.S. women’s soccer team to a 5-1 win over Denmark on Sunday, midfielder Julie Ertz was overjoyed. But not just because of her team’s victory.

She had found out that her husband, Eagles tight end Zack Ertz, was going to the Super Bowl after Philadelphia defeated Minnesota.

Zack had a strong game, pulling in eight passes for 93 yards. Julie wasn’t bad herself, scoring a goal early to give the U.S. the lead.

Your turn, @ZERTZ_86.#USWNT // #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/gWCfU3Nd9I

— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) January 22, 2018



PHOTOS: Last rodeo performance at the 2018 Denver Stock Show

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 22:57

PHOTOS: Last rodeo performance at the 2018 Denver Stock Show