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Gunman Opens Fire On Cookouts In Baltimore, Killing 1

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BALTIMORE (AP) — A gunman fired indiscriminately into a crowd that had gathered for Sunday afternoon cookouts along a west Baltimore street, killing a man and wounding seven other people, authorities and reports said.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the gunfire erupted after 5 p.m. on a block in the city’s western district of brick row homes. Harrison said a man approached a crowd on foot and began firing in what he called “a very tragic, very cowardly shooting.” Speaking at the scene afterward, Harrison said the shooting appeared “extremely targeted,” but he didn’t provide a possible motive.

The shooting comes roughly six weeks after Harrison’s swearing-in last month as Baltimore police commissioner, when he promised to make the city safer and lead the department through sweeping reforms required by a federal consent decree. It’s a daunting task in one of the country’s poorest major cities where there were more than 300 homicides in each of the past two years. Harrison is the city’s 14th police leader since the mid-1990s.

 A scooter lies among evidence markers near the scene where authorities say eight people were shot, at least one fatally
 A scooter lies among evidence markers near the scene where authorities say eight people were shot, at least one fatally, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

The commissioner said there were two cookouts taking place on opposite sides of the street Sunday, and that shell casings were found in two different locations, indicating that there may have been a second gunman, or someone firing back at the first shooter, who fled on foot. It was unclear whether the cookouts were related, Harrison said.

One man who was shot collapsed behind a Baptist church nearby and was pronounced dead at the scene. Harrison said initially that six others had been wounded and were taken to hospitals, but he didn’t release their names or their conditions. A police statement later said a man was killed, but didn’t give his age. It said five of the survivors were men ranging in ages from 27 to 58, as well as a 30-year-old woman.

A police spokeswoman later Sunday evening was cited by The Baltimore Sun as saying an eighth victim, a man with a gunshot wound to the leg, went to a hospital. The report did not elaborate.

“It wasn’t anything dealing with the church. I want to make that very clear,” acting mayor Jack Young said.

Harrison and Young, in appearance with reporters, urged members of the public to help investigators with any information as to who took part or a motive.

“Someone knows something,” Young said. “These things … they don’t happen by happenstance. People know who’s doing these shootings.”

The Baltimore Sun reported that bullet casings were found scattered on the ground near grills, and a table still had items on it that appeared to be left from a cookout. Police officers could be seen after the shooting placing small orange evidence markers on the ground, just feet from a barber shop.

Meanwhile, Harrison said authorities were seeking witnesses among the many present Sunday as they begin to try to piece together details of what happened.

Baltimore has been plagued by drug-fueled violence for decades and it has long been considered one of the nation’s most violent big cities. The corrosive impact of the drug trade and a sea of illegal guns continue to spawn a depressing recurrence of tit-for-tat turf wars and retaliatory attacks in swaths of the city, particularly in the deeply disenfranchised areas of West Baltimore.

While city leaders continue a perennial quest to remake the city in the eyes of potential investors and visitors, Baltimore has been in the throes of a worrying increase of violent crime since 2015, when the homicide rate spiked after the city’s worst rioting in decades following the death of young black man in police custody.

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Democrats say White House offer on budget deal has ‘nonstarters’

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Democrats said Friday there are “nonstarters” in a new White House offer that includes $1.1 trillion in options to offset spending increases in a two-year agreement that would raise the budget caps and hike the debt limit.

“This is the White House’s starting point for negotiations on this aspect,” a Democratic source close to the talks told POLITICO. “They understand these levels are nonstarters for us. Talks will continue.“

Democrats say they are reviewing the White House bid, however.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump accused Democrats of using the debt ceiling as a “negotiating wedge“ to secure their priorities in a sweeping budget deal.

“They can’t use the debt ceiling to negotiate,” Trump said at the White House. “That’s a very sacred thing in our country, debt ceiling. We can never play with it.“

A senior Trump administration official confirmed that the White House on Thursday night proposed $574 billion in ways to counteract spending increases, in addition to $516 billion in savings that would be achieved by freezing fiscal 2021 spending levels for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

Bloomberg first reported the offer, which includes a host of reforms that Democrats likely would never approve. It also includes a drug pricing proposal detailed in Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request, and doesn’t propose cuts to Social Security.

Fiscal conservatives on Friday urged Trump to reject any budget agreement that doesn’t include adequate offsets or a guarantee that Democrats won’t insert “poison pills” into individual spending bills following a budget agreement.

“By rejecting even modest conditions from the White House, Speaker Pelosi seems determined to drive our nation into bankruptcy to fund her big-government agenda,” Reps. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said in a statement.

“Republican negotiators from Congress and the White House cannot allow such a deal to proceed, particularly when the end result will be a Democratic-led crusade to use poison-pill spending riders to undercut the White House’s deregulatory agenda, homeland safeguards and pro-life policies,” they said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been locked in negotiations for days, hoping to clinch a deal by week’s end that would stave off $126 billion in automatic spending cuts and a calamitous default on the nation’s debt.

Time is running out to seal a deal, with the House expected to leave for summer break on July 26. The Treasury Department has estimated that the federal government could breach its borrowing authority before lawmakers return from recess in early September, triggering a debt default. Federal agencies are also set to run out of funding at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Mnuchin said on Thursday that congressional leaders and the White House have “reached an agreement“ on overall spending levels in a two-year deal to raise the budget caps, in addition to settling on a two-year debt limit increase.

But the Trump administration’s demand to offset the spending increases represents a significant hurdle to finalizing a deal, with the administration seeking at least $150 billion.

The White House also wants a guarantee that Democrats won’t insert “poison pills” in spending bills. Democrats have demanded “parity,” or dollar-for-dollar increases in military and non-military spending, in addition to $22 billion in funding for veterans health care over the next two fiscal years.

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Pope Francis, Who Chided Trump’s Border Wall, Gives $500,000 To Migrants In Mexico

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Pope Francis, who has rebuked President Donald Trump for his hardline immigration stance, revealed this weekend that he’s donated $500,000 in aid to migrants in Mexico who have sought a “better future in the United States” but have found the U.S. border “closed to them.”

The Vatican said on Saturday that the Catholic leader’s donation — taken from the coffers of Peter’s Pence, the pope’s charitable fund — would be distributed to 27 projects across Mexico and would be used to provide housing, food and other necessities to Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence.

Many of these migrants, often accompanied by young children, have traveled thousands of miles “on foot and with makeshift vehicles from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” the Vatican said in a press release.

“In 2018, six migrant caravans entered Mexico, for a total of 75,000 people … All these people were stranded, unable to enter the United States, without a home or livelihood,” the release said.

Media coverage of the migrant crisis has been on the decline, the Vatican said, resulting in a concomitant decrease in aid for those who left their strife-torn countries for the U.S. but have been stranded in Mexico. This decline prompted the pope to act. 

Francis’ donation comes less than a month after he criticized Trump and other “builders of walls” who want to keep migrants out of their countries.

“Builders of walls, be they made of razor wire or bricks, will end up becoming prisoners of the walls they build,” the pope told reporters on March 31 when asked to comment on a threat Trump had issued about closing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“I realize that with this problem of migration, a government has a hot potato in its hands, but it must be resolved differently, humanely, not with razor wire,” Francis said. 

In 2016, the pope suggested that Trump’s desire to keep migrants out of America was un-Christian.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he said, referring to Trump’s planned immigration policies.

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When I was fat, socialising was a struggle – but it was going out that helped me lose weight

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used to be fat. (You still are, say the wags.) But I mean really fat. Shopping-at-specialist-internet-clothes-stores fat. Heckled-in-the-street fat. It wasn’t fun, but it took years before I had the willpower, the courage or some combination of the two to do anything about it.

By the time I was 24, in 2008, the feeling that I had to lose weight had been growing for some time. It is impossible to identify one event that prompted me to take action. Was it preparing to change jobs for the first time? Was it the last photo taken of me and my grandpa, which I couldn’t bear to look at? It was everything and nothing. All I knew was that my life didn’t feel worth living if I didn’t make a change.

Of course, not all fat people are unhappy or want to change, and the science around weight is very much contested. But, for me, it suddenly felt very urgent.

What I did wasn’t complicated or revolutionary. It involved years of helpful amateur “advice”, diet shows on TV and useful tips from gym-bunny friends. The idea was to eat less and exercise more – with a clear emphasis on the former.

I was incredibly disciplined about what I ate, buying healthy options and cooking in advance, and I went to the gym at least twice a week. It is not easy walking into a mirror-strewn room full of pumped-up people when you weigh more than 160kg (25 stone). But it was liberating to realise that those six-packed Adonises were far more interested in their own reflections than me huffing and puffing behind them. No matter how close you get to “the ideal body”, insecurity lurks.
l of this will be familiar to anyone who has thought about losing weight. But that is not the change that mattered the most. It was my willingness to embrace a social life that had hitherto felt onerous, but which empowered me. I knew that being home alone was when my worst habits became irresistible. So, I decided to make sure it happened as rarely as possible. I booked out every night when I wasn’t going to the gym with some social event or other. Being around people was meant to provide an insurance policy against my failure of willpower. But it was helpful in other ways that I had never imagined.

It wasn’t easy, though. All my adult life, leaving the house had been fraught with anxiety. If you have never been fat, the idea that people in passing cars might shout at you in the street simply for being chubby may seem unlikely. It isn’t. It happened to me a lot. And the excruciating embarrassment when it occurred in front of a friend was hard to bear. The forced: “Did you hear that?”, “What did he say?” brought the elephant in the room crashing into view.

Then there was the worry about where we would go. Would I fit into the seat? Would it involve a tiring walk? What if a stranger decided to take the piss? I was by no means a hermit, but I would often stay in when I couldn’t face the outside world.

But rather than terrorising me, going out became part of the solution. Nobody knew. The thought of sharing what I was doing was too scary. That soon became impossible. As the pounds fell off, people started to notice. But that was suddenly OK, because my confidence had increased, the comments occurred less often, and walking became a pleasure – it was exercise.

Relying on a social life to get through forced me to lean on friends in a way that I never had. Talking about myself gradually became easier. I was able to let people in, I was less spiky and my relationships improved. It wasn’t easy, but I don’t remember the difficulties of disciplined eating and social anxiety so much: it is the happy memories I made that have stuck.

Eighteen months later, half the weight I was before, it wasn’t just physical weight that had been lifted from my shoulders. Going out for the night was no longer scary. I didn’t need to plan any excursion to the nth degree to feel OK. Not all my worries disappeared, but a big chunk of them did – and it was a blessed relief.

“Adopt a strict diet and exercise more” is the usual advice for anyone who wants to lose weight. That can feel impossible – it did to me for a long time. But sometimes it is changing the smaller things that can help you get where you want to go. Positive change need not involve sacrifice or pain – sometimes it just means a trip to the pub with some mates.

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