Brother and Sister Tackle Family Drama

The Latina Love Project profiles the lives of women — mothers, daughters, sisters — who often sacrifice their self-care in their struggle to balance and care for family, friends, and work. In this series sponsored by Ford, we spotlight their struggles and triumphs and learn how they create time for their themselves.

In the second episode of the Latina Love Project series, Daniela Herrera, a 22-year-old aspiring journalist and her brother, Cristian, a 16-year-old high school student, unpack longstanding family drama, and learn the pain they caused one another through the years. The two uncover family secrets that strained their relationship, impaired their communication and kept them apart. Watch them forge a closer bond in this emotionally charged exchange.

Rose McGowan Calls Harvey Weinstein’s Response ‘Sad’

Rose McGowan is firing back at Harvey Weinstein after the disgraced producer spoke out on Tuesday to deny the actress’s claim that he sexually assaulted her in 1997. She details the alleged encounter in her new book Brave.

A statement released by the actress’s publicist on Wednesday said that Weinstein’s latest response “unequivocally proves a continued attempt to malign, smear and ‘slut shame’ Rose McGowan.”

On Tuesday, Weinstein’s attorney Ben Brafman slammed what he called McGowan’s attempt to “smear Mr. Weinstein with a bold lie that is denied not only by Mr. Weinstein himself, but by at least two witnesses.”

The statement included emails allegedly written by Ben Affleck and McGowan’s former manager, which purported to disprove the actress’s previous claim that she had told both Affleck and the manager about the alleged assault.

McGowan’s publicist called Brafman’s statement “an affront not only to Rose but to the hundreds of women who have come forward with their stories of harassment, sexual abuse and rape perpetrated by Mr. Weinstein and those like him.”

According to McGowan, the former mogul’s denial “is a sad, pathetic old-fashioned sexist attempt to undermine obvious truth and the gaslighting will no longer be tolerated.”

The inclusion of the emails allegedly written by Affleck and her former manager “clearly proves Mr. Weinstein was on a fishing expedition to target and coerce potential witnesses three months prior to when the first allegations of rape surfaced in the media,” according to the actress.

RELATED: Rose McGowan Speaks Out Against Stars Wearing Black at the Golden Globes

McGowan also accused Weinstein of “resorting to proven espionage tactics in attempt to cover up his crimes.” An article written by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker made similar allegations, reporting that Weinstein used private investigators and former Israeli intelligence officers to keep tabs on his accusers.

The actress also said that the emails allegedly written by Affleck and her former manager have “already been disproven.” For example, she noted that Affleck expressed support for her on the Today Show, saying that he believes and supports her.

Additionally, her former manager’s assistant Anne Woodward supported McGowan’s account in the New York Times, telling the paper, “I remember that Rose was extremely upset and did not want to settle … She wanted to fight.”

Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan in 2007

Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan in 2007

Jeff Vespa/WireImage

“Mr. Weinstein’s attempts to discredit Rose is part of his 20 year long campaign to silence her, clearly proving he IS the monster so many women have described him to be,” McGowan’s publicist added.

“Like so many other #MeToo’s, Rose will continue to push back at ingrained thought and a corrupt power structure. She will not be commenting further,” the statement concluded.

McGowan, who has been promoting her new book Brave, as well as the two-hour premiere of her E! documentary Citizen Rose on Tuesday, was one of the first women to speak out in October when news broke about Weinstein’s alleged decades of alleged sexual misconduct and assault in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The former producer has since been accused by over 60 women of various forms of sexual assault and misconduct.

RELATED: Harvey Weinstein’s Ex-Assistant Says She Was Required to Clean Up After His ‘Sexual Encounters’

In October, the NYT reported that McGowan was part of a settlement with Weinstein in 1997 following the alleged encounter. The $100,000 payout was “not to be construed as an admission” by Weinstein, but intended to “avoid litigation and buy peace,” according to a legal document reportedly reviewed by the NYT.

Weinstein’s lawyer Ben Brafman responded to McGowan’s allegations in a statement to PEOPLE.

“Mr. Weinstein denies Rose McGowan’s allegations of non-consensual sexual contact and it is erroneous and irresponsible to conflate claims of inappropriate behavior and consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of rape.” His spokesperson also said that McGowan “chose to demand money” from Weinstein and worked and appeared with him later in her career.“

A spokesperson for Weinstein also previously told PEOPLE in a statement that “any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”

Fla. Man Allegedly Tried to Hire Hitman to Kill Judge

A Florida man who had pleaded guilty to child pornography now faces additional charges in a suspected murder-for-hire plot to kill the presiding judge in his case, PEOPLE confirms.

To arrange the hit, Robert Anthony O’Hare allegedly used codes while talking to his mother on recorded jailhouse phone calls in Lake County, Florida, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.

On Jan. 7, O’Hare allegedly gave his mom a message that said “Kill Briggs.” Investigators believe this was a reference to Judge Don F. Briggs.

Authorities claim that O’Hare asked his mother to write the message down and give it to a friend called “the rabbi.” In the call, O’Hare allegedly told his mother that the rabbi would know what to do.

“As far as the weird scale goes, it’s off the charts, totally,” Lt. John Herrell with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office told local TV station WKMG.

On a subsequent call, O’Hare’s mother allegedly said that she had spoken to the rabbi. “He knows what you want, but he can’t do it.” she said, the court records claim. “He’s just a ‘rabbi.’ ”

Deputies spoke to this man and he said that while he was handed a piece of paper with numbers on it, he claims to have thrown it away. He said that he was not solicited in a murder plan.

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Speaking to local media, the man dismissed the allegation that he was contacted to carry out a hit. He told The Orlando Sentinel, “I’m 75 years old, blind in one eye and have a cataract in the other. I don’t think I’d hire me as a killer.”

O’Hare’s mother told the paper that she and O’Hare exchanged Bible verses, not coded messages. She said she never gave the other man a note. “These are absolutely bogus charges,” she said. “My son never, ever in a million years would do something like that.”

Neither she nor the so-called rabbi have been charged with any crime.

In 2016, O’Hare was arrested for allegedly placing hidden cameras into two miniature jukeboxes that he gave to children in his neighborhood. Detectives said that he used the cameras to record the children in their home.

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Hundreds of pornographic videos were found on the devices, many showing children of various ages engaged in sexually explicit activity with adults, detectives said. More images were found on his laptop.

O’Hare was represented by a public defender in that case. He pleaded guilty to child pornography and voyeurism charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Judge Briggs.

He faces a life sentence if he is convicted of one count of solicitation to commit murder. He has not yet been arraigned for the new charge, and court records do not reflect an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

He has not yet entered a plea.

Pence touts tax cuts, attacks Manchin in West Virginia appearance

Vice President Mike Pence extolled the benefits of recently enacted tax cuts in West Virginia Tuesday, while simultaneously taking rhetorical shots at Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in a likely preview of what could be a crucial Senate race for both parties. 

“When it came to cutting your taxes, Joe voted no,” Pence told employees at a White Sulphur Springs manufacturing company, adding that Manchin “has voted no time and again on the policies that West Virginia needs.”

Pence attacked Manchin for voting against repealing and replacing ObamaCare, defunding Planned Parenthood and promising to vote against an immigration package that includes funding for President Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Manchin has bucked his party to vote with the GOP in the past, and even said fellow Democrats who refused to stand during Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday were acting “disrespectful.”

Still, Pence held firm. “Folks, Joe’s just going to keep voting against West Virginia,” Pence said. “Now, that might make [Senate Democratic Leader] Chuck Schumer and [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi pretty happy, but West Virginia needs to let him know: you expect better from Joe. You need to let Joe know that West Virginia deserves better in Washington D.C.”

Manchin, a popular former governor and the lone Democrat in West Virginia’s congressional delegation, is seeking re-election to a second full Senate term this November. Trump won West Virginia by 42 percentage points in November 2016, leading some to speculate that a GOP candidate could ride Trump’s coattails to pick up the seat for Republicans.

Pence’s appearance was one of a series of events publicizing the new tax law and promoting its benefits to workers and employers. Trump was scheduled to visit West Virginia Thursday to promote the tax cuts on his way to address a congressional Republicans’ retreat. 

“In just the past month, businesses large and small have already committed to invest an extra $425 billion into American enterprises to expand, innovate, to create jobs, to raise wages for their workers,” Pence said. “And before this year is out, we believe the typical American worker will see their take-home pay rise by as much as $4,000 a year. That’s real results for the American people.”

Pence also spoke briefly about the Virginia crash of the Amtrak train carrying GOP lawmakers to a West Virginia retreat earlier Wednesday. One person outside the train was killed in the wreck. The vice president said Americans were grateful for the lawmakers’ service, adding, “We thank God it wasn’t worse.”

Polar Bear and Sled Dog Playing Video

Ugh. Is it still January? Not for much longer, but this frigid weather isn’t going away for a while. Here’s a heartwarming, almost unbelievable, scene that should defrost even the coldest and crankiest of viewers.

In the video filmed by veterinary nurse Brittany Semeniuk and another wildlife photographer last November in Manitoba, Canada, a wild adult polar bear approaches a chained-up sled dog.

“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Semeniuk told National Geographic. “I was worried for the dog.”

Surprisingly, her worry turned to wide-eyed wonder when the large bear began to sweetly play with the similarly fluffy, but much smaller, canine. In the clip, the polar bear begins to gently nudge the dog with its nose, then starts poking the pup with its paws. The dog seems to enjoy the bear’s advances, even rolling over, paws up in the air.

The incredible, and downright sweet, interaction lasts about 15 minutes. The bear eventually tires of its new acquaintance and wanders off, presumably to search for food. Although their play sesh might look a little rough, it appears so only because the bigger animal doesn’t seem to know its own strength. Meanwhile, the friendly dog must have the best sportsmanship of anyone on its dog sled team.

“When the bear left, the dog seemed to be totally fine,” said Semeniuk.

While seemingly benign interactions between polar bears and dogs have been caught on camera before, the most recent example (until now), filmed in 2016, ended badly. The one night that the owner of the dogs didn’t put out food, the polar bear killed and ate his dog. That’s a clear warning to dog owners: Don’t try this at home with your pet and any species of local bear.

Both the above video and the 2016 incident took place in the same region, Churchill, Canada, known as the “world capitol of polar bears.”

‘Lean On Me’ Star Jermaine Hopkins Pleads Guilty in Weed Case

‘Lean on Me’ Star

Gets Smokin’ Deal

In Weed Bust Case

1/31/2018 3:03 PM PST


Lean on Me” star Jermaine Hopkins is becoming the king of big breaks when it comes to pot busts.

Jermaine pled guilty Wednesday to felony possession of marijuana … according to court officials in Wake County, NC. We’re told Jermaine pled guilty and was sentenced to a minimum of 4 months in prison. Now, here’s the break — that sentence was suspended.

That means Jermaine skates on jail time, and instead gets 24 months of supervised probation. If he screws up, though, he’ll be headed to the slammer.

TMZ broke the story … Jermaine was arrested back in October when cops found 5.7 lbs. of weed in his trunk. Jermaine also got probation in 2011 after he was busted for buying 200 freakin’ lbs. of ganja from an undercover cop.

He’ll now have to submit to drug testing as condition to probation.

What do you do when the train really wrecks?

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On the roster: What do you do when the train really wrecks? –  Big speech likely to yield little change on hill – FBI has ‘grave concerns’ about Nunes memo – Hair today, gone tomorrow: Gowdy calls quits – Orange you glad they weren’t bananas?

Successful people know that life is more about how you deal with the train crash than how you bask in the bright lights for the big speech. 

Republican members of Congress were jolted from their post-State of the Union reverie when the special train Amtrak was running for them to their annual retreat smashed into a dump truck full of garbage stuck at a railroad crossing. 

While none of the members or the train’s crew seemed to have been seriously hurt, one of the occupants of the truck was killed and another person was badly injured. 

One moment, the Republicans were riding in comfort in their very own locomotive, the next they found themselves tossed about, with the members who are doctors rushing out to help the wounded. 

If ever there was a metaphor for the human condition, this was it.

Republicans have since arrived to their original destination, The Greenbrier, but traveled by bus. They are at one of America’s grandest resort hotels nestled in one of the most beautiful patches of God’s green earth you will ever see. But we can be sure that they feel very differently now about everything that came before their trip and about their purpose now having arrived.  

It is not just politicians who struggle with understanding the ephemeral nature of their situations. When times are good, we are all prone to believe that the good times will last forever. When times are bad, it is often hard to imagine the sun will ever come out again. 

But those in politics are particular susceptible to the mistake. If it truly is that the challenge of our lives is to act like we are going to live forever but truly understand that every day could be our last, we are all short of the mark. Politics, though, particularly invites us to overstate our successes and defeats, encouraging people neither to build for the unseen future nor seize each day as a precious gift. 

It is important to savor successes and even more important to learn from failures, but even more important than both of these is keeping such things in proportion.

People in Washington talk often about “train wrecks.” A campaign or a new hire or an event might all earn that epithet. But it is only too easy to forget about the real thing, just as it is only too easy to forget about real life. 
NYT: “Now back to our regularly scheduled acrimony. While a toned-down President Trump called for more bipartisanship in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, the reality is that relations between the two parties on Capitol Hill — and between Democrats and the White House — are badly strained if not downright toxic at present. The speech seemed to do little to ease tensions and in fact may have exacerbated them. Mr. Trump will find fulfilling his stated goals on public works projects, immigration and other top initiatives very difficult given the polarized atmosphere. Deep divisions were on display in the House chamber as Democrats sat stone-faced through most of the president’s remarks – rarely rising to offer even polite applause. Republicans cheered line after line, reserving one of their loudest roars for Mr. Trump’s celebration of ‘our massive tax cut’— a proposal opposed by every single Democrat in the House and Senate.”

Portman pushes smaller package on DREAMers – The Hill: “A key Republican senator is floating a new proposal to essentially codify President Obama’s 2012 executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in order to break a standoff with Democrats over immigration. The idea, floated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in private conversations with Republican and Democratic senators, would give legal status to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children in exchange for stronger border security. It would stop short of creating a path to citizenship for the immigrants known as ‘Dreamers’ and help deliver on President Trump’s promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. It also would cut out changes to two other legal immigration programs that have been part of a White House framework proposal.”

William Galston: ‘Radical centralism needed to fix immigration’ – WSJ: “If Democrats want a solution to the DACA problem, they must offer more than token concessions to Republicans’ long-held concerns about interior enforcement and border security. They will have to accept significantly intensified efforts in this area, which will include elements of President Trump’s wall. For their part, Republicans cannot insist on cramming their entire restrictionist agenda into a solution for the plight of those eligible for DACA. Structural changes, such as the role of family reunification in overall immigration policy, belong in a Phase Two discussion, when all issues will be on the table. … This time, the Problem Solvers and other public-spirited members of the House must insist on floor consideration for a range of immigration proposals. If leadership resists, they should resort to other measures—including discharge petitions—to force the long-overdue debate the country needs.”

Bipartisan cold shoulders for $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan – Weekly Standard: “Lawmakers from both parties want to know where the money would come from. Various funding mechanisms under consideration are not final, and they could prove controversial enough to derail the bill before it could pick up any momentum on Capitol Hill in the first place. Further obfuscating the issue, the White House’s $1.5 trillion number keeps fluctuating, depending on which staffer you ask. What is clear at this point is that the plan as drafted would rely heavily on state and local governments to bear most of the costs of the bill. Federal dollars would only cover $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion. ‘It’s money-free infrastructure,’ one Democratic lawmaker candidly remarked on his way to listen to Trump’s address. ‘It’s potholes-fix-themselves infrastructure.’”

Manchin won’t stand for Democrats sitting – WashEx: “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Wednesday morning that Democrats were wrong to sit sullenly for most of President Trump’s State of the Union address, and said that mild protest showed a lack of respect to the presidency. ‘I was very, very upset when I saw the Republicans never, ever stood up with Barack Obama, and there was things I didn’t agree about President Obama in his speech,’ he said on MSNBC.”

Jonah Goldberg: ‘The (tea) party is over’ –
 National Review: “But the most striking thing about the speech was how much it fell into an almost Trumpian version of compassionate conservatism — as if the tea parties had never existed. This was for the most part a conservative speech culturally and thematically. But except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word ‘deficit’ — the ‘infrastructure deficit.’ And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements. I’m not sure it matters politically. But I’m pretty sure it does economically and philosophically.”

Philip Klein: ‘Trump throws in towel on Obamacare repeal’ – WashEx: “President Trump effectively threw in the towel on his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare during his first official State of the Union speech. During the speech, Trump referenced Obamacare once, and it was telling both for what he did say and what he didn’t say. ‘We repealed the core of disastrous Obamacare — the individual mandate is now gone,’ Trump said. By touting the provision in the tax law that zeroed out individual mandate penalties as a repeal of the “core” part of Obamacare, Trump was effectively trying to elide the fact that the rest of the law — its taxes, spending, and regulatory infrastructure — remains intact. That was Trump’s single mention of Obamacare. At no point did he follow up by saying that repealing the mandate was a start, but that he would continue to fight for repeal of the broader law.”

“Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community REQUIRE TIME to mature them for execution.”– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 26

Guardian: “The great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is considered the most voracious apex predator in temperate marine ecosystems worldwide, playing a key role in controlling ecosystem dynamics. As a result, it is difficult to imagine a great white as prey. And yet, earlier this year the carcasses of five great whites washed ashore along South Africa’s Western Cape province. Ranging in size from 2.7 metres (9ft) to 4.9 metres (16ft), the two females and three males all had one thing in common: holes puncturing the muscle wall between the pectoral fins. Strangest of all, their livers were missing. The bite marks inflicted, together with confirmed sightings indicate that orcas, Orcinus orca, were responsible for this precisely-targeted predation. Although the opening scene from Jaws II immediately springs to mind, in which an orca washes up with huge bite marks on it, the reality has turned out to be the exact opposite.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 55 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 3.6 points
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 44% approve – 48% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve – 58% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve – 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve – 58% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 38% approve – 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.6 points 
Change from one week ago:
 Democratic advantage down 2 points  
[Average includes: Monmouth University: 47% Dems – 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems – 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems – 38% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems – 39% GOP; CNN: 49% Dems – 44% GOP.]

WashEx: “The FBI said Wednesday it has ‘grave concerns’ about the classified memo put together by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, and said it includes ‘material omissions of fact.’ ‘The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,’ the agency said Wednesday. ‘As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.’ … ‘The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process,’ the FBI said Wednesday.”

Hundo-P: Trump promises to release memo – Fox News: “President Donald Trump was overheard telling a GOP lawmaker Tuesday night that he’s ‘100 percent’ behind releasing a classified Republican intelligence memo detailing alleged surveillance abuses. ‘Don’t worry,’ the president reportedly told U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., on the House floor after delivering his first State of the Union address. ‘One hundred percent.’ Duncan asked Trump to ‘release the memo,’ a controversial document drafted by U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The House panel voted Monday along party lines to release the memo, prompting a political fight between Republicans and Democrats and pitting Congress against the FBI and the Department of Justice, which object to the release of the four-page document.”

Kelly says memo will be released ‘pretty quick’ – Fox News: “In a radio exclusive, White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, joined Brian Kilmeade at the White House to talk about President Trump’s first State of the Union address. Kelly discussed President Trump taking the handcuffs off of the military in Afghanistan, working on a bipartisan solution on DACA, why his heart breaks over identity politics in America and President Trump releasing the Nunes memo ‘pretty quick and the whole world can see it.’ Plus, General Kelly says the high school teacher who called our military the lowest of the low ‘ought to go to hell.’”

Ryan goes on defense for Nunes – 
WaPo: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday defended the way that Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes handled a politically divisive vote to publicize a classified memo detailing alleged surveillance abuses by federal law enforcement agencies, but he warned against using it to discredit the special counsel’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Nunes (R-Calif.) was following a well-established process when the committee voted Monday to release a GOP-drafted memo to the public, provided President Trump does not block its efforts within five days. The panel also voted to make a memo drafted by Democrats rebutting the GOP’s document available to House members to read in a secure facility, as the panel had done with the GOP memo 11 days earlier along party lines.”

DOJ sets focus on McCabe’s involvement in 2016 – Fox News: “The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has been scrutinizing why former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe seemingly delayed an investigation of emails related to Hillary Clinton’s personal server in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is attempting to determine whether McCabe or other FBI officials wanted to hold off on probing the emails found on the laptop of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner. McCabe, a 22-year FBI veteran, left his position Monday ahead of his planned retirement, effective March 18. The Post reported that McCabe’s departure was announced following a meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray at which the inspector general’s investigation was discussed. … However, the Post reports that McCabe was aware of the emails on Weiner’s laptop by late September or early October.”

McConnell says Mueller is safe – Bloomberg: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he sees no need to act to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation — and declined to say how Republicans would react if President Donald Trump tries to fire Mueller. ‘My understanding is there’s no effort under way to undermine or remove the special counsel,’ McConnell of Kentucky told reporters. ‘Therefore I don’t see any need to bring up legislation to protect someone who appears to need no protection.’ McConnell declined to say what Republicans would do if Trump sought to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Mueller, despite reports Trump has discussed both possibilities.”

The Hill: “Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of a key House committee, announced Wednesday that he will not run for reelection. ‘There is a time to come and a time to go. This is the right time, for me, to leave politics and return to the justice system,’ he said in a statement on Twitter. Gowdy is the 10th GOP committee chairman to head for the exit this cycle. ‘Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,’ he said. Gowdy currently leads the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His departure will open up a plum position at the top of the committee’s GOP leadership — either the chairmanship or the ranking member position if the Democrats win control of the House after the 2018 midterms. … The news comes less than a month after Gowdy stepped down from his spot on the House Ethics Committee, citing the ‘challenging workload’ of his committee assignments on top of his chairmanship.”

Feds drop corruption case against Menendez – WaPo: “The Justice Department asked a judge Wednesday to toss out its indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez, as anti-corruption prosecutors signaled surrender in the case a week after the judge voided some of the charges. … Menendez’s first trial ended in a hung jury in November, with 10 of the 12 jurors voting to acquit him. Earlier this month, prosecutors had signaled they intended to retry the senator… …legal experts have questioned whether their authority to pursue such cases will be more limited in the wake of the Menendez mistrial and an earlier Supreme Court ruling. … Prosecutors said he took gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen … in exchange for which he tried to help Melgen get U.S. visas for his girlfriends, intervened in the eye doctor’s $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare and assisted with a port security contract of Melgen’s in the Dominican Republic.”

Longtime Democratic congressman from Philly quits amid bribery scandal – WPVI: “Action News has learned that Democratic Congressman Bob Brady will not run for re-election. … Brady has been the chairman of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party since 1986, and was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1998. … Back in December, Donald Jones – a political consultant for Brady – pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about a $90,000 payment made by the congressman’s campaign to get an opponent to quit a 2012 primary.”

DNC sees fundraising increase but nowhere close to RNC numbers – Politico: “The Democratic National Committee will report raising $5.2 million in December, bringing its total 2017 fundraising to $67 million, according to paperwork that will be filed Wednesday. That figure includes $1.2 million raised by the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the national and state parties launched in October, and over $30 million in grass-roots donations —averaging $21 dollars each — overall. The total is slightly ahead of the party’s haul in 2013 and 2015, the previous off-years when Democrats had the benefit of a president from their party in the White House. It’s far behind the behind the $108 million that the DNC raised in 2011, however. It also badly trails the Republican National Committee, which raised $11.1 million in December for a 2017 total of $132.5 million.”

Poll: Trump and GOP ratings warm up – Monmouth University: “Donald Trump’s job approval rating has bounced back from the record low registered in last month’s Monmouth University Poll, as more Americans now see the president as having achieved some legislative success. The poll finds that support for the recently passed tax reform plan has increased and Republicans have made gains in the generic House ballot test. … In a look ahead to 2018, Democrats currently hold a negligible edge on the generic Congress ballot. If the election for House of Representatives were held today, 47% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district compared to 45% who would support the Republican. This marks a dramatic shift from last month, when Democrats held a 15 point advantage on the generic ballot (51% to 36%).”

Leading Dem demographer warns party on white, working-class – Vox: “However popular, the view that Democrats can get along without working-class white voters is simply wrong. It reflects wishful thinking and a rigid set of political priors — namely, which Democrats’ political problems always stem from insufficient motivation of base voters — more than a cold, hard look at what the electoral and demographic data say. … The exit polls claimed there were more white college voters (37 percent) than white non-college voters (34 percent). But in a report for the Center for American Progress synthesizing available public survey data, census data, and actual election returns, Robert GriffinJohn Halpin, and [Ruy Teixeira] found that 2016 voters were 44 percent white non-college and just 30 percent white college-educated. … This suggests the exit polls were not just wrong but massively wrong, especially in the context of Rust Belt swing states, where errors were even larger and the political implications of misunderstanding graver.”

Kraushaar: Some warning signs for Cruz – National Journal: “There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that [Ted Cruz] will be facing a serious challenge running for a second term. His Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, outraised him in the just-completed fundraising quarter by a significant margin. The congressman raised $2.4 million compared to Cruz’s $1.9 million in the last three months of last year… The limited polling from Texas shows the possibility of a competitive race. … [Although] horse-race polling isn’t all that predictive this far out before an election. Most importantly, Texas has suddenly turned into a much more competitive state over the past year. A Gallup survey tracking Trump’s popularity in all 50 states throughout 2017 found Trump’s job approval at 39 percent in Texas, in the bottom third of the pack.”

Two years away from primaries, Dems ready first ad for 2020 in Iowa – WaPo: “The first ad of the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries will run Sunday in Iowa, more than two years before the state’s voters will head to vote in caucuses. The candidate: Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who for six months has been the only declared candidate for the party’s nomination. Delaney’s ad, ‘Dirty Word,’ is as jarring as anything else viewers might see during the Super Bowl. In it, Iowans cast wary glances at the camera as a narrator ‘admits’ that ‘John Delaney said a dirty word’ during his campaign stops in the state. That word, revealed 20 seconds in, is ‘bipartisanship’ — an encapsulation of Delaney’s promise, if elected, to spend his first 100 days passing and signing bills supported by both parties.”

Pugilistic GOP state senator ready to razz Cuomo – NYT: “The Republican Party hasn’t won a statewide election in New York since 2002, and even the party’s biggest boosters seem well aware of the troubles they face in staving off a third term for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this fall. But the contest gained some intrigue on Tuesday with the entry of John A. DeFrancisco, a state senator, into the thin Republican field, introducing a hard-punching, wisecracking and little-to-lose conservative into what has been a decidedly sleepy election cycle. Mr. DeFrancisco, 71, formally announced his candidacy on Tuesday afternoon, presenting it as a crusade to return the state to past prosperity. ‘As somebody said, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’’ Mr. DeFrancisco said, quoting a famous Bill Clinton maxim, at the campaign kickoff at a hotel just outside of his hometown, Syracuse.”

Politico: “President Donald Trump’s top public health official resigned Wednesday amid mounting questions about financial conflicts of interest. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald‘s resignation comes one day after POLITICO reported that one month into her tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she bought shares in a tobacco company. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, and preventing it is an issue Fitzgerald had long championed. … The agency’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, was appointed acting director effective immediately, the agency said. She is a longtime career public health official.”

Hillary makes a hash out of response to sex harassment claims against her campaign – Vanity Fair

GOP mega donor Ricketts tapped as next RNC finance chairman – The Hill

Casino regulators target Wynn over harassment, misconduct claims – Bloomberg

Senate unanimously passes bill after Nassar pleads guilty in gymnastics sex-abuse case – Politico

States dig on for legal battle to block GOP tax plan – National Journal

The indistinguished gentleman? House candidate under fire for adopting former congressman’s name – Roll Call

“I decided to go a little bit light on the ChapStick this morning… which is probably a wise choice.” – Rep. Joe Kennedy III said jokingly this morning on GMA referring to his rather shiny lips during his response to the State of the Union.

“Why was this ‘first’ State of Union for Trump? I think I remember Trump having a successful speech last year. I am living in the twilight zone?” – Karen Morrow, Tampa, Fla.

[Ed. note: I don’t know if you’re living in the Twilight Zone, Ms. Morrow, I have had some pretty weird times in Tampa over the years… But seriously, the address President Trump gave in 2017 was not a State of the Union address but rather an address to a joint session of Congress. States of the Union are constitutionally mandated updates from the president to Congress, but the president can address a joint session of Congress whenever they will let him. A newly inaugurated president can’t offer thoughts on the state of the union when he just took office a month or so before. In 1981, Ronald Reagan gave an address to a joint session of Congress in February to outline his proposal for economic recovery. And like the tradition of delivering States of the Union in person, his successors glommed on to the idea. Donald Trump is the sixth consecutive president to give one of these faux-OTUs. You know the old joke: the most dangerous place to stand in Washington is in between a politician and a television camera.]

“I too regularly read the Half Time Report and also look forward to your many guest appearances on several Fox programs. With much regret, I must agree with Mr. Burrow in that I also have seen a slippage in your unbiased commentary. It is not so much what you say, but more so how you are now saying it. There seems to be an infusion of ‘smarmy talk’ in almost all of the TV appearances that you have been making over the last few months that have greatly disappointed me.” – David Kramer, Wesley Chapel, Fla.

[Ed. note: I hear you, Mr. Kramer. And I will say to you what I said to Mr. Burrow, that I will take seriously your admonition. But whatever changes that I have undergone over the years, I also wonder if a changing political climate affects your point of view. I pride myself on maintaining as much skepticism about the people in power as decorum and patriotism will permit. I think it’s important for us as Americans to have belief in our basic institutions. But I am very much of the Will Rogers school of thought when it comes to the politicians that populate those institutions. Americans have too much a tendency these days to turn politicians into either demigods or abject villains. These are people, just like us. I will always do my best to remain skeptical of people in power, but also always willing to give credit where it is due. When Barack Obama became president, there were Democrats who had enjoyed my analysis of the Bush presidency who did not like it a bit when the same tines were turned on one of their own. But I will check my smarm meter and make sure that I’m not being unfair or unkind without cause. Thank you for reading and taking the time to write.]   

“The current debate, notwithstanding illegal entrants, seems to be only about who and how many to admit. Is there an optimum size?  Is it 400 million, 500 million or has it been surpassed? To not give recognition to the effect of population growth in the debate is a disservice to future citizens, natural and immigrant, and the America in which they will live.” – Paul Thomson, Edmond, Okla. 

[Ed. note: I don’t know if we can say that there is an optimum size for the United States. And I am certain if we set our Congress on the work of determining one, they would screw it up. But that isn’t the same as saying that there is not a right or wrong number of immigrants for the United States in a given year. As it stands, we welcome about one million permanent legal residents every year, many of whom eventually go on to become citizens. These new residents are important not just because we value their contributions, but also our federal, fiscal and economic models rely on a growing population, just as we have always had. As American birthrates have continued to decline, these immigrants have become more important. Their tax payments and economic activity are helping to keep social security checks rolling and keeping the economy humming. Another related demographic problem is that we are rather old as a population. In 1970, median age for Americans was about 28 years old. In 2016, it’s almost 38 years old. Baby boomers gonna boom… We certainly don’t have a concern right now about running out of space, except for in the northeast corridor and the California coast. The rest of the country has lots of room to grow. What we can’t be so sure of, though, is the ability of our system to govern such a large, diverse and geographically disparate population. Do we need more seats in Congress? Do we need more autonomy for states? Do we need more states? (I’m looking at you, California and Texas.) But for the time being, America continues to need lots of immigrants. We just need to do a better job of addressing that need.] 

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UPI: “Police in Spain came across a group of thieves driving vehicles filled with stolen oranges in the city of Seville. Seville Police shared photos of two cars and a van overflowing with a combined 4 tons of stolen oranges. Police became suspicious when the three-vehicle convoy abruptly changed directions after spotting the patrol cars. After a brief chase down a dirt road officers manage to pull over the suspects and discovered the massive haul of stolen fruit. Loose oranges were seen spilling out of the back passenger door of one vehicle, while some were tied neatly in bags in the back of a van. All five people at the scene were arrested after police learned a warehouse in Carmona had reported a theft of oranges.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

Engine Biosciences raises $10 million in Southeast Asia’s largest institutional seed round

Life sciences startups in Asia are getting another boost with the $10 million investment in Engine Biosciences — a biotech company that’s applying machine learning to genomics for drug discovery.

With its headquarters in both Singapore and San Francisco, the company has managed to attract some impressive investors from both the U.S. and Asia. The round was co-led by Danhua Venture Capital and 6 Dimensions Capital with additional participation from WuXi Apptec, EDBI, Paviliaon Capital, Baidu Ventures, WI Harper and Nest.Bio Ventures.

Founded by a who’s who of researchers including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Timothy Lu and Jim Collins; Mayo Clinic Assistant professor Hu Li, and University of California San Diego assistant professor, Prashant Mali, Engine is leveraging experts in synthetic biology and drug discovery to create a new way to build and test novel medicines.

According to a statement, the company will use the money to continue developing its drug discovery platform, expand the executive and scientific team in Singapore and the U.S. and beging pre-clinical studies internally and with partners — which already include undisclosed research institutions and an unnamed Fortune 500 company here in the U.S.

Combining parallel biological experimentation with machine learning to develop therapies, Engine is building a system for new drug discovery that is faster and cheaper to test than existing methodologies, the company claims.

“The biopharmaceutical industry needs better approaches for R&D to deliver therapies to patients in need faster. Legacy approaches mean that in many cases, we still have a weak understanding of what drives disease and correspondingly, how to treat or prevent it,” said Engine Biosciences Co-Founder and CEO Jeffrey Lu, in a statement. “Engine’s data-driven platform allows researchers to not only uncover the critical gene interactions underlying diseases, but also test therapies that specifically target these interactions in a faster, cheaper and more precise fashion than currently possible.”

So far, the technology is being used for drug repositioning, which creates new applications for xisting drugs; target discovery, which looks at potential biological factors for disease; precision medicine through targeting specific genes; and pathway analysis.

Already the company has seen proof-of-concept successes around treatments for cancer, neuro-degeneration, autoimmune disorders and skin disorders.

“The lack of insight into complex and multi-factorial biological processes within cells contributes to the high failure rate across the drug development cycle. Engine Biosciences has pioneered a new approach to address this by generating novel data and insights that are highly relevant to the biological process,” said Dr. Leon Chen, founding CEO of 6 Dimensions Capital and a member of Engine’s Board of Directors. “We expect the company’s AI platform will lead to insightful information in complex diseases’ pathways that was not previously possible using traditional wet lab centric biology research and we are excited to support the team with our investment.”

Dog Walking App Wag Expands

Good news for customers and fans (including their pups!) of on-demand dog walking service Wag!: One of the most popular pet startups in the country is only getting bigger and better.

On Tuesday, the No.1 dog walking and boarding mobile app announced a $300 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, according to a company press release.

Co-founded by brothers Joshua and Jonathan Viner, Wag! launched in 2015 and offers on-demand walking and boarding services for pups from New York to L.A., including more than 100 cities along the way. Walkers are available 24/7 and walks last 30 or 60 minutes. The company carefully vets its walkers and says it only invites the most trustworthy individuals to its platform. Wag! also proudly partners with local shelters in key cities, and is a sponsor of Rescue Bank, donating proceeds from every walk to help supply food for shelter dogs across the U.S.

“Jon and I are thrilled to announce the $300 million investment from SoftBank. We are going to be able to bring Wag! to many more dog owners across the country and to offer new services to our existing furry customers. We look forward to keeping more pups happy and healthy,” Joshua Viner, Co-Founder of Wag!, told PEOPLE.

“I’m so proud to be a part of our founders’ Josh and Jon’s vision for Wag!. This investment will help us to improve the lives of so many more dogs and I hope will encourage more people to adopt pups of their own! I think Chance and Frankie were excited to hear their mom’s good news too because their tails started wagging!” said Munn in an email to PEOPLE.

According to the company’s press release, the U.S. pet services industry was an estimated $69 billion market in 2017 ($180 billion globally). Growth in the pet sector is unprecedented, and Wag! reports that its consistently growing number of walks mirrors that of the market.


Katy Perry, Charli XCX Slam Grammys President for Comments on Women

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Katy Perry and Charli XCX are joining the chorus of people criticizing Recording Academy president Neil Portnow for saying that women in music need to “step up” if they want more Grammy Awards.

Hours after Pink fired back on Monday, Perry tweeted support for her comments, writing, “👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 Another powerful woman, leading by example. We ALL have a responsibility to call out the absurd lack of equality everywhere we see it. I’m proud of ALL the women making incredible art in the face of continual resistance. ✊🏻 P.s VH1 Divas Live.”

“ugh bout 2 step up on 2 ur face.. women are making AMAZING music right now wtf is this dude talking about ?????” wrote Charli XCX.

Kelly Clarkson also added her thoughts on Wednesday, using her recent album as Exhibit A. “A confused soul said women need 2 ‘step up’ their A-game if they wanna start winning & u know what I’m not even mad at ignorance,” she tweeted. “I’m just gonna kindly point u n the direction of my A-game album I recently dropped #MeaningOfLife#UrWelcome I Jenna Dewan’d that s—t y’all #stepup”

Fifth Harmony singer Lauren Jauregui wrote about being disappointed that SZA — nominated for Best New Artist, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, Best Urban Contemporary Album, and Best Rap/Sung Performance — lost four awards to men. Meanwhile, Alessia Cara, the only woman to beat SZA (in the Best New Artist category), has had to defend her win on social media.

In the wake of the male-dominated Grammys on Sunday — Cara was the only woman to win a major award during the broadcast — Portnow addressed the #GrammysSoMale tweets in an interview with Variety. “I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls — who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on the executive level — to step up,” he said in part. (The Recording Academy did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.)

Pink was the first major pop star to come out against the comments on Monday. “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ — women have been stepping since the beginning of time,” she shared in a handwritten note. “Stepping up, and also stepping aside. Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this. When we celebrate and honor the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women STEP UP every year, and how much women STEP UP every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it looks like to be fair.”