World in brief: Florida Legislature debates school safety bill

PARKLAND, Fla. — Family members of people killed in a South Florida school shooting gave emotional testimony Tuesday during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would allow for armed teachers and raise the age limit to buy rifles.

Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter who died Feb. 14 at his high school, said the bill the House committee eventually approved doesn’t go far enough — but could have saved his son.

“If we would have had these measures in place, I would not have had to bury my son next to his mother a week and a half ago. I’m standing your for your help. I’m pleading for your help. I’m willing to compromise. Are you?” he asked.

A House committee approved the bill that would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and creates a three-day waiting period for all gun purchase. The bill would also create a program that allows teachers who receive law enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom if also approved by the school district.

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, told the House Appropriations Committee that she supports hardening schools and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but couldn’t support the bill because of the new restrictions on gun ownership.

Trump campaign chief lends his name to penny stock tied to felon

WASHINGTON — The political strategist and online guru who was named President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Tuesday has a close financial relationship with a penny-stock firm with a questionable history that includes longstanding ties to a convicted fraudster, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Brad Parscale, who played a key role in Trump’s 2016 election victory, signed a $10 million deal in August to sell his digital marketing company to CloudCommerce Inc. As part of the deal, Parscale currently serves as a member of California-based company’s management team.

The company touts itself as “a global provider of cloud-driven e-commerce and mobile commerce solutions.” But records reviewed by the AP raise questions about its current financial picture and its rocky past.

Cloud Commerce’s operations have not turned a profit in nearly a decade, the records indicate. The company’s most recent quarterly earnings showed it has spent more than $19 million in investor money since its creation nearly two decades ago and has only $107,000 in cash on hand.

And in 2006, a top executive at the company, which was operating under a different name at the time, was caught in an FBI bribery sting and later pleaded guilty to securities fraud. The company said the former executive no longer has any connection to the company, but documents reviewed by the AP indicate he has remained involved in CloudCommerce’s major corporate decisions in recent years.

Gun proposals percolate, but Congress isn’t eager

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan showed little interest Tuesday in some of the stricter gun proposals being floated by President Donald Trump or bipartisan coalitions in Congress, as Senate Republicans pushed a more modest measure to boost the existing background check system with new penalties and incentives.

As student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting roamed the Capitol for a second day, promoting tougher gun laws in meetings with top lawmakers, Ryan acknowledged “system failures” in Florida that he said Congress should review. But GOP leaders stopped short of offering new legislation beyond the background check fix.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens,” Ryan told reporters. “We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in first place don’t get those guns.”

The Senate was poised to consider legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, though votes were not yet scheduled amid resistance from within the GOP ranks.

The “Fix NICS” bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun.

Kushner’s security clearance downgraded per Kelly policy

WASHINGTON — The security clearance of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has been downgraded. That’s according to two people informed of the decision.

Kushner had been operating with an interim clearance at the “top secret/sensitive compartmented information” level for more than a year. Now, a White House official and a person familiar with the decision say he is only authorized to access information at the lower “secret” level. Neither source was authorized to discuss the decision publicly.

Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered that White House officials with interim clearances pending since before June 1, 2017, lose their access to the nation’s deepest secrets if they hadn’t received permanent clearances by last Friday. A White House official confirms that Kelly’s order has been implemented.

What’s in the IV bag?

Studies show safer option than saline

New research calls into question what’s in those IV bags that nearly every hospitalized patient gets. Using a different intravenous fluid instead of the usual saline greatly reduced the risk of death or kidney damage, two large studies found.

The difference could mean 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer cases of kidney failure each year in the U.S., researchers estimate. Some doctors are hoping the results will persuade more hospitals to switch.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm for 20 years” about possible harms from saline, said Dr. John Kellum, a critical care specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s purely inertia” that prevents a change, he said.

Kellum had no role in the studies, which were discussed Tuesday at a critical care conference in San Antonio and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Federal grants helped pay for the work.

IVs are one of the most common things in health care. They are used to prevent dehydration, maintain blood pressure or give patients medicines or nutrients if they can’t eat.

Report: Anti-Semitic incidents soar by 57 percent in 2017

The Anti-Defamation League is reporting a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. last year, the highest tally that the Jewish civil rights group has counted in more than two decades, according to data it released Tuesday.

The New York City-based organization found 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents last year, up from 1,267 in 2016. That’s the highest total since 1994 and the largest single-year increase since the group began collecting this data in 1979.

The ADL said the sharp rise includes 952 vandalism incidents, an increase of 86 percent from 2016. The group also counted 1,015 incidents of harassment, a 41 percent increase from 2016.

ADL national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the “alarming” increase appears to be fueled by emboldened far-right extremists as well as the “divisive state of our national discourse.”

“Less civility has led to more intolerance,” he told The Associated Press.

Hope Hicks declines to answer some questions in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s longtime aide Hope Hicks is declining to answer questions about her time in the White House in a closed-door interview Tuesday with the House intelligence committee.

The panel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. As one of Trump’s closest aides, Hicks is a key eyewitness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.

As the interview went into the afternoon, several members of the committee said during breaks that Hicks was declining to answer any questions from her time in the White House. Others who have worked in the White House, including former strategist Steve Bannon, have also declined to talk about that time in interviews with the committee.

“There are some questions that she’s not going to answer,” said Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah.

Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, another member of the panel, said Hicks and her lawyer were “following the orders of the White House not to answer certain questions.”

U.S. general: Russia is both ‘arsonist and fireman’ in Syria

WASHINGTON — Russia is seeking to counter U.S. diplomatic influence by stoking conflict in Syria even as it portrays itself as an arbiter in the civil war, the top American general in the Middle East said Tuesday in notably pointed criticism of Moscow.

“I’m being very serious when I say they play the role of both arsonist and fireman — fueling tensions and then trying to resolve them in their favor,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee. He said Moscow is pushing alternatives to Western-led political negotiations in both Syria and Afghanistan in order to limit U.S. influence.

Russia “has to admit” that it is incapable of, or not interested in, playing a constructive role in ending the multi-dimensional war in Syria, he said.

“I think their role is incredibly destabilizing at this point,” he said.

For its part, the Russian military has consistently accused the U.S. of sparing the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria in the hope of using them to topple President Bashar Assad. Russian officials have strongly denied responsibility for any civilian casualties in Syria and insisted that they have only struck militant targets after verifying their location through multiple intelligence sources and avoided targeting populated areas. Russian military officials and diplomats also have scolded the U.S.-led coalition for reducing the one-time IS capital, Raqqa, to rubble and causing severe suffering for its residents.

Woman says Steve Wynn raped her in ‘70s

LAS VEGAS — A woman told police she had a child with casino mogul Steve Wynn after he raped her, while another reported she was forced to resign from a Las Vegas job after she refused to have sex with him.

The Associated Press on Tuesday obtained copies of police reports recently filed by the two women about allegations dating to the 1970s. Police in Las Vegas revealed earlier this month that they had taken the statements after a news report in January revealed sexual misconduct allegations against the billionaire. Wynn has vehemently denied the misconduct accusations and attributed them to a campaign led by his ex-wife, whose attorney has denied that she instigated the report by the Wall Street Journal.

One police report shows a woman told officers that Wynn raped her at least three times around 1973 and 1974 at her Chicago apartment. She reported she got pregnant and gave birth to a girl in a gas station restroom.

In one instance, the woman claimed that Wynn pinned her against the refrigerator and raped her. She said he then made a phone call, kissed her on the cheek and left. The report does not explain how Wynn is alleged to have entered the apartment or if they knew each other. The woman claimed she did not give him a key.