Derek Jeters Hall of Fame election was one vote short of unanimous. Thank goodness.

95 0 23 Jan 2020

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that two players had made it into the 2020 player induction class. The first, outfielder Larry Walker, managed to make it on his 10th appearance on the ballot, his last year of eligibility. He learned about his enshrinement while sporting what appeared to be a SpongeBob SquarePants-themed stock car racing jacket.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, on the other hand, was elected in his first year of eligibility by the 425 baseball writers who are the hall’s gatekeepers. Jeter was arguably the most famous baseball player of his generation, or at least the most famous player who isn’t being held out of the hall for being associated with using performance-enhancing drugs.

Luck and myth walked around with this guy; they blessed him with a career on the league’s most visible team and got him into big moments where he managed slappy hits.

He was a sure-thing first-ballot Hall of Famer by any rational measure: the captain who led the Yankees to a whopping five World Series victories, netted 3,465 career hits, played in 14 MLB All-Star games, won five Silver Slugger trophies and five Golden Gloves — an extraordinary accomplishment for a shortstop, the second most important defensive position behind catchers on a baseball diamond.

Last year, closer Mariano Rivera, Jeter’s Yankee teammate and MLB’s all-time leader in saves, was elected to the Hall in an unprecedented unanimous vote. He earned this distinction despite the fact that, from a pure production standpoint, Rivera only pitched a mere inning on average per outing. That kept him from providing as much value as most of baseball’s starters in a given year, which adds a different type of asterisk to his status as the only unanimous inductee. But the fact of the matter was that Rivera’s domination in clutch situations left a mark that went beyond pure on-field production. Even his on-field failures were infused with a kind of mystic energy.

It stood to reason that Rivera’s unanimous selection, deserved or not, would set a precedent that Jeter might slip right into. The tension over the infielder’s Hall of Fame selection wasn’t whether he would make it — of course he would — but whether he’d follow in Rivera’s footsteps to become only the second player in baseball history to win every vote he possibly could.

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He didn’t.

He was short by one.

It’s a delicious outcome.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, much like Rivera, Jeter is plainly overrated. He never won an MVP award, dispite being extremely famous and playing in the MLB for an extraordinarily long time. His clutch hitting is plainly overstated.

His defensive reputation was built on his ability to avoid errors with clean throws to first and some flashy plays in big moments, but all of that is completely subverted by the fact that his fielding range — his ability to get to as many balls in the gap between second and third base as possible — was below average at best. When the Yankees traded for fellow shortstop Alex Rodriguez in 2004, A-Rod was moved to third in deference to Jeter’s reputation, despite the fact that the newer Yankee, in addition to being a superior hitter, was also a better shortstop.

As far as Jeter’s offense was concerned, he hit for average. His power was nothing special — he hit A LOT of singles — and he wasn’t great at drawing walks.

That’s not to say he was bad, or that he doesn’t deserve to get in on the first ballot, or anything like that. It’s merely that he was always inferior to many of his less-well-regarded contemporaries: A-Rod, Ken Griffy Jr., Barry Bonds, Adrian Beltre, Pedro Martinez and many others were denied Jeter’s degree of attention, fame and repute despite having more productive careers.

It was just that luck and myth walked around with this guy; they blessed him with a career on the league’s most visible team and got him into big moments where he managed slappy hits to confirm the stories that workaday sportswriters, the kind who vote for the Hall of Fame slate, want to tell about athletes.

The Yankee gentleman was also totally, unrelentingly professional. No getting mad at reporters, no giving any answer more interesting than, “We’re gonna go out there and try,” never acting in any way that a sports talk radio host could get mad about during drive time.

He almost never got injured. And he even managed to be one of the five or so conventionally handsome baseball players who come along every generation. He was touched by God, blessed to be the ultimate athlete to people looking to tell a narrow, dull story about sports, the one about the intrinsic relationship between attitude and victory.

But here’s a different story about Jeets that, I think, gets to the core of why grimier baseball fans are so disenchanted with his life and career. When Jeter purchased a stake in the Miami Marlins and was named CEO of the team in 2017, one of his first acts in management was to dismantle and move the Marlins’ wild-looking in-park home run sculpture, a massive, bizarre carnival attraction that lit up with neon, sent big Art Deco swordfish swirling in the sky and shot water from its base every time a home team player hit a home run. Why did he murder the cool fish statue? Though he offered a business-related rationale, at heart it seems like it just didn’t broadcast the bland, inoffensive, professional vision of baseball that Jeter served up his entire career.

He almost never got injured. And he even managed to be one of the five or so conventionally handsome baseball players who come along every generation.

And so, God bless this thus-far-anonymous sportswriter who was apparently devoted to denying Jeter the perfection that had been granted to him his entire career. Why did he do it? Who knows! Maybe the writer was operating off the same playbook I have been using here: doing their part to let history know that there were people who knew the truth of Jeets being plainly overrated.

Maybe Jeter blew the writer off in the locker room, once upon a time, and this is a petty act of revenge, the last bitter swipe of an ink-stained wretch operating in a crumbling industry. Maybe they’re a Red Sox writer, and want to show off for their drinking buddies.

But it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that this hero stared into the face of overwhelming groupthink about Jeter to inform the ages that somewhere, out there, was a powerful pedant, a true stickler willing to call bull on the myth, to let anyone who was looking know that it didn’t matter if Jeter was great, he was still overrated, and didn’t deserve an unblemished ride into the hallowed halls of baseball greatness.

Biden says hes opposed to testifying in Senate impeachment trial

83 0 23 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he is opposed to testifying in the Senate impeachment trial in exchange for securing testimony from several key witnesses sought by Democrats because he doesn’t want to participate in “some kind of political theater.”

The 2020 presidential contender made the comment on the campaign trail in Iowa as the first day of opening arguments in the trial unfolded on Capitol Hill. There have been weeks of debate over whether Democrats should engage in a witness trade deal with Republicans.

Biden on Wednesday was asked if he would call the Republicans’ bluff and state that he’d testify if witnesses sought by Democrats go first.

As part of an extended answer in which he defended his son Hunter Biden, whose work in Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment saga, Biden suggested that he opposes such a scenario.

“The reason why I would not make the deal — the bottom line is this is a constitutional issue. And we’re not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater,” Biden said.

“They are trying to turn it into political theater,” he added. “But I want no part of being any part of that. And I have no problem, as you’ll find out the rest of this campaign, debating Trump, debating the majority leader, debating Lindsey Graham, debating any of these guys. I don’t have any problem.”

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Biden did not say on Wednesday whether or not he would comply with a Senate subpoena for his testimony.

His remarks came after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday during a brief recess from the trial that a witness trade, where Democrats agree to call people like the Bidens so that Republicans agree to hear from people like former national security adviser John Bolton, is “off the table.”

There’s no guarantee that the trial will even make it to a witness and documents stage. The resolution adopted by the Senate Tuesday that laid out the initial parameters of the trial said that the Senate would have to vote to allow witnesses and documents later on. Republicans have been largely opposed to incorporating such testimony and records, but Democrats could secure them if they win over four Senate Republicans to vote with them as they need only 51 votes to make it that far.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is serving as the lead prosecutor in the trial, told reporters on Wednesday that testimony from the Bidens would be “irrelevant and immaterial” to the trial.

“This isn’t like some fantasy football trade as I said yesterday. This isn’t we’ll offer you this if you give us that. We’ll offer you a witness that is irrelevant and immaterial, who has no relevant testimony but a witness that will allow us to smear a presidential candidate if you want to get a legitimate witness.”

In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that there were ongoing talks about witnesses and said Democrats won’t have that negotiation publicly.

“We have sought four witnesses that have direct firsthand knowledge: John Bolton who was in the room with the president trying to talk him out of this so-called drug deal, Mick Mulvaney who took the order and began to execute it with Robert Blair and Michael Duffy. These witnesses have relevant knowledge; Hunter Biden has none.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that he would not be in favor of a witness trade that would lead to the testimony of either of the Bidens.

“That issue has nothing to do with the impeachment trial,” Sanders said. “Trump is being charged with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Those are the issues. Those are the witnesses that need to be called and that’s the kind of debate that needs to happen.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a longtime friend of the former vice president, said Tuesday that if it came down to Joe Biden testifying, he would be able to handle it.

“I can’t imagine a person more comfortable in the well of the Senate than a man who spent 36 years here as a United States senator,” he said, “And I can’t imagine a current candidate for president, more familiar with and comfortable with the details of how the previous administration worked tirelessly to fight corruption in Ukraine and the current administration has failed to than my predecessor.”

Later on Tuesday he tweeted: “I’m a lawyer, and here’s what I know: Trials have witnesses, and the witnesses have to be relevant to the case. It isn’t complicated. The President is on trial here, not anyone with the last name Biden. VP Biden and Hunter Biden are not relevant witnesses.”

These are the 15 easiest indoor houseplants (that wont die on you)

72 0 23 Jan 2020

Plants are having a moment, especially among millennials. After all, indoor plants act as a quick decorating tool, are easy to maintain, and keeping them around can make you feel better. How is that?

Plants resonate with millennials as an antidote to this insane connectivity,” Eliza Blank, the founder of indoor plant retailer The Sill, previously told NBC News BETTER. “Americans spend 93 percent of our time indoors. It seems somewhat counter and somewhat intuitive because it’s an escape from our screens, and something we can take care of outside ourselves.”

But you don’t need to be a millennial or even have a green thumb to keep houseplants alive and well. Here, we break down 15 of the most popular (and easy to care for) indoor houseplants and what it takes to maintain them.

Why you want it: First of all, this indoor plant has an air-purifying quality that can absorb and strip toxins (like formaldehyde) from materials in the home (like carpet). How neat is that? It has trailing stems and works well in a hanging basket or as a climbing plant with some training onto a trellis or whatever object that will support it.

How to care for it: This indoor houseplant can produce stems that trail 8 feet or longer, so just cut them back when they get too long and your plant will continue to look full and healthy. It can thrive in an array of lighting conditions, but low light may diminish the leaves’ variegation. Allow soil to dry somewhat between watering. Pothos does well in an array of normal room temperatures.

Why you want it: This succulent with long, pointed leaves has medicinal properties, as you probably well know. It can also grow 3-feet high to make a big impact indoors. Smaller varieties, like the popular aloe vera, work great in small, sunny indoor spaces.

How to care for it: Aloe likes room temperatures around 70 degrees and a lot of sunlight. As you might expect for a succulent, this indoor houseplant prefers dry soil, so avoid frequent watering for the best results.

Why you want it: These unusual-looking indoor plants add visual interest to a room, and they haven’t fallen out of fashion after years of popularity. Spider plants come in a number of varieties and work well as hanging plants.

How to care for it: Spider plants do well with evenly moist soil and bright or medium lighting conditions. Room temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees keep them thriving.

Why you want it: There’s a real timeless elegance to ivy, and it trails down furniture for a pretty effect. Plus, it’s easy to start a new plant for yourself or a friend by cutting off a section of the stem. Think instant hostess gift! (OK, not completely instant. It takes about two weeks or so to start growing.)

How to care for it: English ivy likes moist soil and cooler room temperature conditions, ranging from the mid-50s to about 70 degrees.

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Why you want it: For those who love the look of a succulent — not to mention, the ease of care — a jade plant offers thick, lush leaves and visually interesting branches. It grows slowly and has the potential to live from the day your kids are born until their high school graduations … at the least! It also looks great in a pretty pot when paired with other succulent varieties.

How to care for it: Jade plants don’t require a lot of water, so keep soil somewhat dry. It prefers bright light and ordinary room temperatures.

Why you want it: This easy-to-grow indoor houseplant will grow into an 8-foot-tall tree for a major pop of greenery in a room. If you prefer a smaller plant, make your rubber tree into a shrub shape by pruning any long stems. Extra bonus: The dark green leaves have an attractive shiny finish.

How to care for it: Allow the surface of the rubber tree’s soil to dry out in between watering. It thrives in lighting conditions from medium to bright, and a range of room temperatures between about 60 and 80 degrees.

Why you want it: The leaves of this pretty indoor plant can grow up to a foot long, and provide a tropical-looking accent to home decor. The whole plant can grow 6-feet high for a cheery room focal point.

How to care for it: Dieffenbachia thrives in normal room temperature not colder than the mid-60s. Keep the soil evenly moist, and provide medium or low-lighting conditions for the best result.

Why you want it: Surely you’ve seen this indoor houseplant in many homes, since it has such pretty, curving white blooms and dark leaves and it’s easy to grow.

How to care for it: This houseplant favors low humidity and also low light, making it great for rooms with few windows. It prefers moist soil throughout the pot and tolerates standard temperatures to about 85 degrees.

Why you want it: It doesn’t get much easier than this indoor houseplant — also known as mother-in-law’s tongue. It has variegated leaves that grow upright, and some varieties have yellow or white edges. It has small, white flowers that bloom only rarely.

How to care for it: This indoor plant grows well in a whole range of lighting conditions. The air should be somewhat dry, as should the soil. Any normal room temperature should suit it just fine.

Why you want it: This indoor tree has shiny leaves to add cheer to any indoor space. Its stems can be braided for a tidy topiary effect we love.

How to care for it: This tree likes full sun or at least bright, filtered light. Most varieties (there are about 800!) prefer several days of dry soil in between thorough watering. Room temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees work best.

Why you want it: This is a trailing indoor houseplant that loves to make its way down mantles or bookshelves. Its perky, dark green leaves come to a heart shape where they meet the stems.

How to care for it: This may be the quintessentially easy indoor plant. It thrives in a range of lighting conditions, from low to sunny, preferring indirect light. It does well anywhere close to standard room temperature. Let the surface of the soil dry between watering; it should not be constantly wet.

Why you want it: A whole array of small indoor houseplants with textured, shiny, often colorful leaves fit into this category. Some popular, attractive and easy-to-manage indoor varieties include watermelon, red-edge and ripple peperomias.

How to care for it: Peperomias favor indoor temperatures from about 60 to 75 degrees and medium or low-lighting conditions. The surface of the soil should dry out between watering.

Why you want it: This jaunty indoor houseplant has bright green leaves that look like shamrocks, plus sweet white flowers on tall stems.

How to care for it: This houseplant loves bright but indirect or filtered light. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between watering thoroughly about once per week.

Why you want it: This lovely indoor tree (actually a species of ficus) has large, dark green leaves that seem to form the vague outline of a fiddle or violin — that’s how it got its name.

How to care for it: This indoor plant likes room temperatures between about 65 and 75 degrees, and exposure to bright to medium light. The surface of the soil should dry out slightly between watering. If it starts to look a bit pale, try moving it to somewhere less bright.

Why you want it: This pretty indoor house palm is a great inspiration if you’re dreaming of tropical climates — or just trying to conjure the look in your home decor. It can grow to about 7-feet tall for a dramatic touch in a room, but a smaller pot will keep it contained if you’d like it to stay smaller

How to care for it: The areca palm does well in indirect light. Keep the soil somewhat dry, only watering on alternate weeks or so.

More home and wellness recommendations from BETTER

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Fact-checking Trumps defense: They got their money

80 0 23 Jan 2020

President Donald Trump repeatedly made false claims Wednesday about his handling of Ukraine foreign aid, seeking to publicly defend himself as Democrats began opening statements in the Senate trial on whether to remove him from office.

Trump — who has sought to block White House documents and aides from offering evidence in the trial and insists there is no basis to Democrats’ claims — repeatedly said that Ukraine got their foreign aid early and that Ukrainian officials have said he did nothing wrong.

Neither claim is completely true, but the president’s remarks — made from Davos, Switzerland — suggest that his defense against the impeachment charges will be rooted in his own reading of the facts.

Let’s review his claims.

Ukraine got their money early

“They got their money long before schedule, they got all their money,” Trump said at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland.

“Remember this, they got their money and they got it early,” Trump said in a Fox Business interview.

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This is false. The funds were held for months in violation of the law, according to the Government Accountability Office. What’s more, Congress had to act again to ensure the American ally would get the money it had been promised.

Congress appropriated about $400 million for Ukraine to provide aid, equipment and support to the military amid its war with pro-Russian separatists.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, testified he became aware that military aid had been held up “by about July 3.”

In a secure call with national security officials on July 18, an aide from the White House Office of Management and Budget announced that there was a freeze on Ukraine aide based on a presidential order to the budget office.

Ukraine and American officials scrambled to find the source of the holdup in the weeks that followed. The president eventually released the aid suddenly on Sept. 11, days after a whistleblower complaint triggered House investigations.

The aid was appropriated to be delivered by Sept. 30, and the House impeachment inquiry report notes that Congress had to pass a bill to extend the deadline in late September to ensure Ukraine would get all of it.

In November, the Pentagon told The Los Angeles Times that some $36 million still hadn’t been sent to Ukraine and would be obligated “over the next several weeks.”

Check with Ukraine

The president also said critics should check with Ukrainian officials, claiming they had defended him.

“There was one call, which was perfect, and then there was a second call I guess a couple of months later, which was perfect,” Trump said at the news conference on Wednesday. “The president of Ukraine said it was perfect. The foreign minister of Ukraine said it was perfect.”

“Speak to the president of Ukraine or the foreign minister who say nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened,” Trump also told Fox Business.

This is misleading. Ukraine’s leaders have indeed downplayed allegations of Trump wrongdoing — Ukraine’s foreign minister has said Trump didn’t pressure Ukraine in the July call — but they haven’t cleared him either.

While still president-elect, Zelenskiy had already spent spent hours talking to aides about how to avoid becoming entangled in the U.S. election because of Trump’s request for investigations, according to an AP report. When directly asked at a late-September news conference whether he had felt pressured by Trump, Zelenskiy repeated his desire not to get involved in the U.S. elections and added, “I think, and you read it, that nobody … pushed me,” referring to a detailed summary of his and Trump’s July 25 phone call that had been released by the White House hours earlier.

Here’s what Zelenskiy — a leader of a country that is dependent on U.S. foreign aid — later said in an interview with Time and a handful of European publications.

“Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” he said. “That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand, we’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning retiring after 16-season career

78 0 23 Jan 2020

Quarterback Eli Manning, who led his New York Giants to two improbable Super Bowl titles, will take a knee on his 16-season-long career and retire, the team announced Wednesday.

The 39-year-old son of long-time New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and brother of fellow NFL star Peyton Manning, retired with 57,023 passing yards and 366 touchdown throws, the most in Giants franchise history. He made two Super Bowl and four Pro Bowl appearances.

“We are proud to have called Eli Manning our quarterback for so many years,” Giants chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch said. “Eli leaves a timeless legacy with two Super Bowl titles on the field and his philanthropic work off the field, which has inspired and impacted so many people. We are sincerely thankful for everything Eli has given our team and community. He will always be a Giant among Giants.”

The Giants say Manning will officially announce the retirement on Friday.

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Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards on his mantle and two championship rings on his hand for title game wins in 2008 and 2012.

In both games, his Giants were considered underdogs to the New England Patriots, led by sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

And in both games, Manning came through with improbable throws to that led the Giants to victory. In 2008, his pass to David Tyree, who pinned the ball to his helmet, was key to New York dashing New England’s hopes of an undefeated season.

Then in 2012, Manning slipped a long throw between defenders to Mario Manningham that led to the winning score.

Manning’s last several seasons never reached the heights of his Super Bowl runs, with the Giants only making it back to the playoffs once since 2012, and the longtime starter was benched during the 2019 season in favor of rookie Daniel Jones.

While his stats never approached the same record-stetting levels as his Hall of Fame-bound brother, Eli Manning earned the same number of Super Bowl rings as Peyton Manning.

“For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field,” Giants president and CEO John Mara said. “We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.”

Manning, who attended the University of Mississippi like his dad, has only worn a Giants uniform since he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft by the then-San Diego Chargers.

Manning, who said he would never play for the Chargers, never took one snap in San Diego as he was traded to New York for the Giants’ No. 4 overall pick, quarterback Philip Rivers.

“He won championships and he was always there giving us a chance to win,” said former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, who traded for Manning. “I don’t know how you can ask more from a quarterback.”

Protester interrupts Senate impeachment trial, yelling Schumer is the devil

70 0 23 Jan 2020

A protester interrupted the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D.N.Y., was presenting his arguments.

The protester was tackled and escorted out of the gallery within seconds. Jeffries, one of the seven House impeachment managers tasked with presenting the case against Trump, resumed his remarks, but the protester continued to scream loudly just outside the chamber, on the third floor near the press gallery.

Full coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial

The man could be heard yelling “Schumer is the devil” and “Dismiss the trial of impeachment,” and he repeatedly mentioned abortion as he was arrested and led away by Capitol Police.

He was charged with unlawful conduct, said Eva Malecki, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.

A man is tackled as he shouts at the chamber door during President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.Bill Hennessy

The protester, an older white man, had been spotted in the area throughout the day. The Senate press gallery seemed to know immediately who he was and noted that they’d dealt with him before.

House prosecutors, led by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have 24 hours over three days to convince Senate jurors that Trump committed impeachable offenses. After that, Trump’s lawyers will present their defense.

Gary Grumbach , Deepa Shivaram and Frank Thorp V contributed.

Democrats impeachment formula — 2+2=4 — is easy math

63 0 23 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — The plot is intricate, but the math is simple.

The latter requires senators and the public to understand only that “two plus two equals four,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House manager in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, said Wednesday.

That basic math is all it takes, he argued, to conclude that Trump prioritized his own interests over national security by using foreign aid as leverage to force Ukraine into helping his re-election effort. The Ukrainians knew the score — “they’re not stupid,” Schiff said — and he left unspoken his thoughts on the intellectual capacity of senators who couldn’t or wouldn’t perform the same addition with the facts in front of them.

Of course, the arithmetic of the eventual Senate vote is nothing like the formula for determining whether the president abused the powers of his office in the ways the Founding Fathers envisioned a chief executive might when they vested Congress with removal authority.

Full coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial

Trump’s defenders — his attorneys and most, if not all, of the 53 Senate Republicans, from whom he needs just 34 votes to remain in office — say he did nothing wrong, that House Democrats rushed to impeach him in a partisan fever without sufficient evidence and that even if he’d done all that is alleged, the bill of particulars would come up short of justifying ejecting him from the Oval Office.

The expectation that Trump will be acquitted is the reason Democratic House managers are appealing to two audiences as they argue the facts. They would like to persuade a handful of Republican senators to vote in favor of articles of impeachment, and they are determined to demonstrate to the public that Trump was rightly impeached by the House.

There were moments of rhetorical flourish Wednesday: Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries described fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani as a “cold-blooded political operative for President Trump’s re-election campaign” in explaining why Giuliani’s role as unofficial head of the Oval Office’s Ukraine team pointed to a personal mission for the president rather than a foreign policy agenda for the United States.

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And yet Schiff and his fellow House prosecutors also began to lay out labyrinthine details that punched home the thoroughness of the record against a president who appeared to have boasted earlier in the day that he is withholding more evidence from Congress and the public. It was the first time — and, because the prosecutors repeated the facts, the second, third and fourth times — that the full timeline had been presented, along with videotaped testimony from the House’s investigation, from end to end.

The evidence was “overwhelming,” Carol Lam, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said on NBC as the Senate broke for dinner Wednesday night.

The recitation of appendix-like particulars may have sounded arcane, but they were necessary to support the allegations in the two articles of impeachment the House approved last month. They involved initialisms like FMF (foreign military financing), OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and FOIA (Freedom of Information Act); Ukrainian names like Volodymyr Zelenskiy (the president), Yuriy Lutsenko (a former prosecutor) and Oleksandr Danylyuk (a former Cabinet official); and a thicket of legal principles, from the strictures of the Impoundment Control Act to the concepts of the Federalist Papers.

But while Trump and his friends on Capitol Hill are counting on the public to tune out, there’s no question that senators are capable of following every twist and turn. Nearly a third of them sit on the Appropriations Committee, whose power of the purse Trump challenged by unilaterally blocking the aid.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Ukraine Caucus and a former director of the OMB, pressed the White House last year for answers on what had happened to the money, and he is intimately familiar with the laws governing how budget officials are supposed to treat appropriated funds. Portman’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he believes the funds were frozen legally.

Republican senators objected to the repetition of Democratic impeachment managers, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., dismissed the trial as an “attempt by the Democrats to take the Senate” by embarrassing moderates up for re-election.

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Trump defense attorney Jay Sekulow said Democrats were leveling new charges when they repeatedly said Wednesday that he offered Ukraine a quid pro quo.

“Notice what’s not in the articles of impeachment — allegations or accusations of quid pro quo,” Sekulow said.That’s because they didn’t exist. So you know there’s a lot of things we’ll rebut, but we’ll do it in an orderly and, I hope, more systematic fashion.”

But while the first article of impeachment doesn’t use the Latin phrase — which means “something for something” — it charges the president with “conditioning” official acts of the U.S. government on acts by Ukraine. It alleges a quid pro quo in plain English.

The president’s defense team will not get a chance to rebut the Democratic case on the Senate floor until Saturday, but the facts themselves will be hard to contradict. Trump privately and publicly solicited foreign assistance in investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in national polls for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump’s re-election, as Democrats charged. He went to extraordinary lengths — in violation of budget law, according to the Government Accountability Office — to freeze aid to Ukraine while he was pressing Ukraine to announce investigations into Biden and another matter important to his re-election.

Several of his aides testified, despite his orders that they not appear before Congress, that he conditioned the release of money for Ukraine on the announcement of the investigations. His acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged at one point — before backtracking — that the money was held back as leverage to produce one of the inquiries. And Trump showed no interest in the subject of corruption in Ukraine — or, really, anything else about the country — outside of its potential to aid his political fortunes, according to the sworn testimony of administration officials that was replayed Wednesday.

Throughout the day, House prosecutors noted points at which they believed they could have made a stronger case had Trump not ordered administration officials to defy subpoenas and requests for documents and testimony. At a news conference in Europe on Wednesday morning, Trump appeared to brag that he had not been forced to produce more evidence.

“Honestly, we have all the material,” he said. “They don’t have the material.”

But many lawyers believe that House Democrats had more than enough evidence to justify his impeachment and that the case for his removal is strong — whether or not 20 Republicans will eventually cross the partisan aisle to join Democrats to tally the needed two-thirds majority.

“If this isn’t impeachable, then you should just take it out of the Constitution, because nothing could be impeachable,” Jill Wine-Banks, an MSNBC contributor who was a prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, said Wednesday on “NBC News Now.”

Juice WRLD died of oxycodone and codeine overdose, medical examiner says

82 0 23 Jan 2020

Rapper Jarad Anthony Higgins, known by the stage name Juice WRLD, died from oxycodone and codeine toxicity, according to a new medical examiner statement.

Higgins died after what police called a “medical emergency” at Midway Airport in Chicago last month, but the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said at the time that it needed to run more tests to determine the cause of death.

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The office officially ruled that Higgins’ death was an accident Wednesday.

Local and federal authorities met the 21-year-old rapper’s plane in December on suspicion he was in possession of contraband, the Chicago Police Department said at the time. Officials found 70 pounds of marijuana and six bottles of prescription codeine cough syrup in a search of the luggage on the twin-engine Gulfstream jet.

Police said Higgins began convulsing while police officers were speaking to him and others on the plane. He was given two doses of Narcan, a brand of naloxone used to block the effects of opioid overdose in emergency situations.

Higgins woke up briefly but was later declared dead at a local hospital.

The Chicago-area native was considered at the forefront of the emo rap scene. Higgins hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart last year with the studio album “Death Race for Love” and was signed to Interscope Records.

Higgins once rapped about the short lives of artists in his single “Legends,” in which he said he didn’t want to be known as a legend because “all the legends seem to die out.”

“We keep on losing our legends to the cruel cold world,” the lyrics said. “What is it coming to?”

Most Americans can file their tax returns for free. Do you qualify?

68 0 23 Jan 2020

No one looks forward to doing their taxes. But if you’re expecting a refund and have all of your paperwork in order, you might want to get a jump on things.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will start processing 2019 returns on January 27, but the IRS Free File program is already open for business.

If you qualify — and most low- and middle-income Americans do — you can prepare your return now and the preparation service will file it as soon as the IRS starts accepting returns — all for free.

The Free File Alliance is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and leading commercial tax preparation services. The companies taking part this year are: 1040Now, ezTaxReturn (English and Spanish) FileYourTaxes, Free Tax Returns, H&R Block, Intuit (maker of TurboTax), Online Taxes, TaxAct, TaxHawk and TaxSlayer (English and Spanish). You can see what each member of the Free File Alliance offers. Or use the Free File Lookup Tool: Just answer six questions to find the programs that are available to you.

Anyone with an adjusted gross income of $69,000 or less will qualify for at least one of the Free File software packages. Some of the 10 companies will also prepare and file state tax returns for free.

“If you qualify, then by all means, use Free File and save money,” said Andrea Coombes, tax specialist at NerdWallet. “Each provider has its own eligibility rules based on your personal situation — age, income and where you live — so you may not be able to choose from all of them.”

Note: Some companies have free versions of their software on their websites for people with very simple returns. These are different from the free services offered via the Free File website. For example, the “TurboTax Free Edition” offered on the Intuit website is different from the free version of TurboTax accessible via the IRS Free File website.

“These free products [available on the company’s website] generally require that you have a simple tax situation, one that doesn’t need a lot of forms,” Coombes told NBC News BETTER. “The caveat here is that you might get pitched a higher-end software package — and that won’t be free.”

NerdWallet’s experts looked at IRS Free File and four other free tax preparation options available this year.

Few people take advantage of the Free File program

The program has saved taxpayers at least $1.7 billion dollars since it began in 2003, according to the IRS. But the savings could be so much greater. While about 70 percent of individual taxpayers qualify for IRS Free File, fewer than 1.6 percent took advantage of the program in 2018, according to the IRS Tax Advocate Service.

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An investigation by ProPublica revealed that two of the big tax preparation services — Intuit and H&R Block — took steps to keep the Free File versions of their products from showing up in Google search results. Both companies denied doing anything wrong.

The IRS responded by updating its agreement with the tax-prep companies taking part in this year’s Free File. They have agreed to “increase electronic filing of tax returns” — both online federal tax preparation and electronic filing — “to economically disadvantaged and underserved populations at no cost,” the IRS said.

Under the agreement, they’re also prohibited from “engaging in any practice that would cause the member’s Free Filing landing page to be excluded from an organic Internet search.”

The improved process will make Free File “stronger and give taxpayers another reason to consider this valuable software solution,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Retting said.

Want to talk in person? Free tax help is also available

Preparing a tax return can be confusing. Some people need a little help. Both the IRS and AARP have programs that provide this one-on-one assistance.

“These programs give you the opportunity to speak to someone who has been trained and meets IRS qualifications to provide tax-prep assistance,” said Megan Brinsfield, director of financial planning at Motley Fool Wealth Management. “These IRS-trained volunteers will prepare your taxes on site and electronically file them for free.”

The IRS has two programs that provide free tax preparation help for those who qualify:

  • The Volunteer Income Tax (VITA) program is for people with an annual income of $56,000 or less, those with disabilities, and taxpayers with limited English. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation and free electronic filing.
  • The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 and older. The IRS-certified volunteers in this program specialize in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

To find a VITA or TCE site near you, use the locator tool.

The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program offers free tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers — especially those 50 and older — at nearly 5,000 locations nationwide. You don’t have to be an AARP member and there’s no age requirement. Check the Tax-Aide Site Locator for locations.

You may still have time to lower your tax bill

There isn’t a lot you can do to reduce your tax burden after December 31 rolls around, but you may have two opportunities left: Contribute to a traditional IRA. If you already have an IRA or qualify to start one, you can make your 2019 contribution of $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older) until April 15 and claim that deduction on this year’s taxes. Contribute to a health savings account (HSA). If you have a high-deductible health plan you can have a health savings account to help pay for your medical expenses. Contributions made by April 15 count as a deduction on your 2019 taxes.

Changes in the law you should know about

For those who itemize, Congress renewed and extended some well-known deductions in December that might help reduce your tax burden. If you qualify for deductions from previous years, you’ll need to weigh the cost vs. advantage of filing an amended return.

NEXT: Doing your taxes? Use these tips to get organized


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China virus death toll rises to 17 as city of 11 million is shuttered

55 0 23 Jan 2020

BEIJING — The death toll from a new flu-like coronavirus in China rose from nine to 17 on Wednesday, state media reported, as authorities all but shut down the metropolis of 11 million people where the outbreak is believed to have begun.

Although the origin of the virus has yet to be pinpointed, Chinese and international health officials have linked the outbreak to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market market in Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Hubei province in central China.

The market was closed on Jan. 1, and it was locked down, cleared out and placed under police guard Wednesday.

The state-run China Global Television Network, or CGTN, reported that public transportation in Wuhan — including buses and the metro — will be suspended beginning Wednesday to contain the spread of the virus, as will long-distance trains and planes entering or leaving the city.

Federal health officials said strict control measures would be implemented across Wuhan, including increased screening at train and bus stations. Live animals, including poultry, will not be allowed into the city, and authorities are discouraging public gatherings across central Hubei province.

China’s state newspaper, People’s Daily, reported Wednesday that Hubei province plans to request emergency support from the federal government that would include 40 million medical masks, 5 million sets of protective clothing and 5,000 sets of infrared thermometers.

CGTN reported that 544 people are confirmed to have been infected across China. Li Bin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, said there was already evidence that the virus was being spread through “respiratory transmission.”

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“Recently there has been a big change in the number of cases, which is related to our deepening understanding of the disease, improving diagnostic methods and optimizing the distribution of diagnostic kits,” Li told reporters.

A case of the disease was confirmed in a U.S. patient on Tuesday, federal health officials said. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the virus has been “handled very well” in the United States.

“We’re in very good shape. And I think China’s in very good shape, also,” the president said in Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded screening of passengers from Wuhan to five airports Tuesday, adding Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta and O’Hare in Chicago to airports in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. All passengers whose flights originate in Wuhan will be rerouted to one of those five airports, the CDC said.

At Wuhan airport, Lawrence Chen, a Connecticut man traveling to New York, said Wednesday that he was slightly nervous heading back.

“I am not sure what to anticipate in New York — it may take a long time to come out,” Chen, wearing a black face mask, said in an interview said as he waited in line with other face mask-clad passengers to check in for their U.S.-bound flight.

Chen was taking basic precautions not to get sick, such as wearing the mask and washing his hands. “That’s all I can do,” he added.

As China vowed to tighten containment measures in hospitals, the World Health Organization is expected to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a global health emergency.

In recent days, the virus has spread to Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and the gambling hub Macao, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Health officials are also looking into a suspected case in Hong Kong.

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The Chinese government has been providing daily updates on the number of cases to head off panic as millions of people prepare to travel domestically and abroad for Lunar New Year celebrations starting this week.

“At present, during the Lunar New Year, the rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading and the difficulty of prevention and control,” said Li of the National Health Commission, warning that the mutation of the virus could allow the outbreak to spread further.

A health official scans a passenger’s temperature as she arrives at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.Tatan Syuflana / AP

Fears of a pandemic similar to the SARS outbreak that started in China and killed nearly 800 people in 2002-03 have roiled global markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit particularly hard and the Chinese yuan tumbling. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is also a coronavirus.

Li said there was as yet no evidence of “super-spreaders” capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak.

Symptoms in patients who contract the new virus include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The viral infection, which can cause pneumonia, can be passed from person to person.

Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing, Janis Mackey Frayer from Wuhan and Yuliya Talmazan from London.

Reuters and Alex Johnson contributed.