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Trump sends mixed messages to China on trade war

BIARRITZ, France — Injecting fresh uncertainty at a time of global economic jitters, President Donald Trump sent mixed messages Sunday on the U.S.-China trade war as leaders at a global summit pushed the unpredictable American president to ease frictions over tariffs and cooperate on other geopolitical challenges.

Trump’s head-snapping comments at the Group of Seven summit about his escalating trade fight with China — first expressing regret, then amping up tariff threats — represented just the latest manifestation of the hazards of the president’s go-it-alone mantra. Allies fault his turbulent trade agenda for contributing to a global economic slowdown.

Despite Trump’s insistence that reports of U.S. tensions with allies are overblown, fissures between the U.S. and six of the world’s other advanced economies were apparent on trade policy, Russia and Iran as the leaders gathered at a picturesque French beach resort.

Two days after the U.S. and China traded a fresh round of retaliatory tariffs and Trump threatened to force U.S. businesses to cut ties with China, the president appeared to harbor qualms about the trade war, which has sent financial markets tumbling.

Asked during a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson if he had any second thoughts about escalating the trade conflict, Trump told reporters, “Yeah. For sure.”

He added, “I have second thoughts about everything.”

Hours later, the White House backpedaled. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying the press had “greatly misinterpreted” Trump’s comments. She said the president only responded “in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who was in the room when Trump spoke and was later interviewed by CBS’ “Face the Nation,” offered his own explanation.

Kudlow claimed Trump “didn’t quite hear the question” although reporters asked the president three times whether he had any second thoughts about ramping up the trade war, and he responded three times.

At first, Trump’s admission appeared to mark a rare moment of self-reflection by the famously hardnosed leader. The subsequent explanation fits a pattern of Trump recoiling from statements he believes suggest weakness.

Earlier this month, Trump backed off on a threat to place even tougher tariffs on Chinese imports as aides fretted about their impact on the holiday shopping season and growing fears of a recession in the U.S.

Trump had hoped to use the summit to rally other leaders to do more to stimulate their economies, as fears rise of a potential slowdown in the U.S. before he stands for reelection in November 2020.

Johnson, for his part, praised Trump for America’s economic performance — but chided the U.S. leader for his unbending China policy.

“Just to register a faint sheep-like note of our view on the trade war,” he told Trump. “We’re in favor of trade peace.”

Trump said he had “no plans right now” to follow through on his threat of an emergency declaration, but he insisted he would be within his rights to use a 1977 law designed to target rogue regimes, terrorists and drug traffickers as the newest weapon in the clash between the world’s two largest economies

“If I want, I could declare a national emergency,” Trump said. He cited China’s theft of intellectual property and the large U.S. trade deficit with China, saying “in many ways that’s an emergency.”

For all of that, Trump disputed reports of friction with other G-7 leaders, saying he has been “treated beautifully” since he arrived.

The cracks started to emerge moments later after the French government said the leaders had agreed at a Saturday dinner that French President Emanuel Macron would deliver a message to Iran on behalf of the group.

Trump denied he had signed off on any such message.

“No, I haven’t discussed that,” he told reporters during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Administration officials said Trump was noncommittal when the leaders discussed the subject of a message to Iran during a conversation about Iran’s nuclear program.

For several months, Macron has assumed a lead role in trying to save the 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. The French went even further Sunday, inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif to Biarritz in a bid to open talks meant on lowering tensions.

Trump curtly told reporters he had “no comment” on Zarif’s presence. Officials said the White House was not aware in advance of the invitation to Zarif — a further indication of Trump’s diminished role.

Trump also faced opposition from European leaders over his stated desire to find a way to re-admit Russia to the G-7 before next year’s meeting of the world leaders, which will be held in the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin was expelled from the former G-7 in 2015 following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

And, sitting feet away from Abe, Trump declined to forcefully condemn North Korea’s flouting of international sanctions with a recent burst of short-range ballistic missile tests, calling them “much more standard” missiles. Abe views them as a critical security threat.

Trump told reporters: “We’re in the world of missiles, folks, whether you like it or not.”

Harrison County fire marshal asks for help with litter control, illegal dumping

MARSHALL — Litter is getting out of hand in Harrison County, running neck-and-neck with road repair needs.

“If you’ll look at our numbers that we have turned in, you will see a definite increase within the past two, three years of the numbers of what we’ve worked against and what we’re being hit with,” Assistant Fire Marshal Duana “D.J.” Couch said.

Couch also is the county’s environmental investigator. She’s working 37 cases of illegal dumping, just in this month alone. To help get a grip on the problem, Harrison County Fire Marshal Thomas Mock submitted one last request for the Harrison County Commissioners Court’s consideration this past week, asking the court to add a part-time litter control position before the court wraps up its budget season for the new fiscal year.

The need for a part-time litter abatement employee was first brought up in July by Pct. 3 County Commissioner Jay Ebarb when the court decided to end a Regional Solid Waste Grant Program contract that the county had with East Texas Council of Governments to fund a part-time litter abatement employee. The contract was terminated because the employee resigned.

“We had the grant. We really didn’t realize how much of an impact that position helped us until we lost it,” Mock said Tuesday.

Mock said the county has numerous litter-riddled sites, but he’s had to put them on the back burner for the past two months to focus on school inspections.

The part-time litter control position “was just an invaluable part of our office to help stay ahead of the litter abatement across the county,” Mock said.

Responding to a question from County Judge Chad Sims, Mock said the duties of the former employee consisted of picking up litter and cracking down on illegal dumping.

“It was a little of both because sometimes we have a lot of mattresses, couches ... large items that are dumped, but you can’t identify who they belong to,” Mock said.

He said while basic trash is easy to identify through tossed mail, the illegal dumping of large items such as tires and furniture can be hard to trace.

“I know I can identify about three locations (with tires). You gotta get ‘em cleaned up, because if you don’t, it just opens the door for more people to see it and say: ‘Oh, this is a good spot to dump them,’” Mock said.

Ebarb suggested if the county wants to be serious about curbing the litter problem, it must try to investigate every site for a clue to the culprit.

“We have to go to every possible one that we can get to in hopes that we can find a piece of bulk mail with an address or name or something on it so we can then put some teeth in,” Ebarb said.

“If we’re just going out picking it up, we’re not making any progress,” he said, “but if we can go out and investigate and literally put some ownership to these areas that we’ve got problems in, I think it would be (progress).”

Ebarb said the problem is not limited to one area but all over the county. He said enforcing fines might even solve the problem.

“I hate to use the word ‘ticket’ or ‘fine’ or ‘catch’ or whatever, but until the people in the community know that we’re serious about (it) ... and get some tickets to some people where they’ll have to go out and clean up the mess that they created — plus what was already there when they threw theirs — then hopefully the goal is to (control it).”

Mock said the fire marshal’s office is successful in identifying the responsible party about 40% to 50% of the time.

However, “the hardest thing is those large bulk items that are dumped,” he said.

Pct. 1 Commissioner William Hatfield said he understands sometimes a bag of trash might blow out, but some of the litter seems intentional. Hatfield said Couch does her job issuing fines, but he’d also like to see the justices of the peace enforce those fines.

“To my understanding, the JP’s offices are really soft-handed on enforcing it,” Hatfield said. “I’ll echo what Commissioner Ebarb says: We need to get some teeth into this where people just don’t want to take a chance on taking that old TV and throwing it out on the side of the road.”

Pct. 3 Commissioner Phillip Mauldin agreed.

“I get as many calls about trash and just regular litter as I do the roads,” Mauldin said.

Mauldin said he thinks it’s a shame that they even have to call on various county departments such as the sheriff’s inmate labor program, probation department and even Willoughby Juvenile Center for assistance because the problem is so massive.

“We need some kind of campaign to get everybody’s attention,” Mauldin said.

Sims noted that the city of Marshall has an anti-litter campaign. The campaign, announced in April, is an effort to get residents to “save your cash, pick up your trash” by tackling the city’s litter problem.

“I sure would like to see all parts of the county join in on that as well,” Sims said.

ICE chief called family detention 'summer camp.' Here's what it looks like inside.

DILLEY — More than a year after he drew criticism for comparing family detention to a “summer camp,” the nation’s top immigration enforcer stood in a clean hallway in America’s largest family detention complex in Texas and gestured around himself.

“Take a look,” said Matthew Albence, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s acting director.

Across the hall was a dental office, with a reclining chair and sterile instruments. The cafeteria was serving hot dogs, lime-cilantro chicken, tortillas and green salad — all you can eat. Kindergartners sat on a colorful mat in a schoolhouse trailer and learned to sing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

ICE allowed news photographers and TV cameras into the family residential center for the first time on Friday because, they said, some news reports and Congress members have confused the Border Patrol’s cramped, short-term jails — criticized by immigration attorneys and Democratic lawmakers for their “horrendous” conditions — with the comprehensive family detention centers that ICE is attempting to expand.

Albence and other officials led the tour on the same day the Trump administration officially moved to terminate a court agreement that sets basic standards for the care of underage migrants, including a 20-day limit on their detention. The administration says withdrawing from the Flores Settlement Agreement, in place since 1997, would not mean families would be detained indefinitely. Officials said they hope to hold them no longer than 50 to 60 days, enough time to deport those who are ineligible for asylum and release the rest.

That would triple the length of time children are held, and appeals could take longer.

The South Texas Family Residential Center sits off a vast stretch of scrubland in a tiny former oil-boom town, an hour south of San Antonio. There’s a Dairy Queen, a motel named White House Inn and not much else. CoreCivic, a private for-profit company that specializes in corrections and runs adult immigration jails also runs the center.

The Dilley facility is one of three family detention centers in the United States, with a total capacity of about 3,000 beds, though only two are in use. Approximately 900 parents and children were being held in Dilley and another facility in Pennsylvania as of last week.

Albence said that, unlike the Border Patrol facilities where children lacked toothbrushes and were photographed sleeping on the ground, ICE’s family residential centers give children and parents three hot meals a day and access to a wide array of services, including a 24-hour infirmary, a day care, a library with internet and email access, a beauty salon, a charter school and a canteen.

Mothers and children as young as babies sleep in dorms with bunk beds and share bathrooms, with trailers divided into neighborhoods with names such as Green Turtle and Yellow Frog.

“This is clearly not a concentration camp,” Albence said, referring to the “ugly rhetoric” that some activists have directed at ICE agents in recent months.

Pediatricians, child psychiatrists, immigration lawyers, congressional Democrats and others swiftly condemned the move to end Flores, and lawyers vowed to oppose the withdrawal in court. Advocates for immigrants say detaining children with hundreds of strangers is dangerous. Chickenpox, the flu and other diseases can spread quickly. Children and parents grow stressed, and some become suicidal.

The mother of a 19-month-old girl who fell ill at Dilley and died shortly after her release last year has filed a wrongful-death claim saying the girl, Mariee, was vomiting constantly and neglected at Dilley.

“Detention for any length of time, with or without their families, is bad for children,” said Caryl Stern, president and chief executive of UNICEF USA, the United Nations agency that advocates for women and children in the United States, in a statement. “The proof is there. Detained children experience long-lasting harm on their well-being, safety, and development.”

Before the rule can take effect, officials say it must go before U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, an Obama appointee in Los Angeles, and lawyers for both sides are scheduled to file briefs in the coming days.

Officials said Dilley is not a secure facility, and that women and children are free to wander around the campus. But if families try to leave, officials said, they could be apprehended for being in the United States illegally. ICE did not allow reporters to speak with the women and children held in Dilley on Friday.

But in interviews Thursday at a San Antonio bus station an hour north of Dilley, women recently released from the facility and heading to join friends and relatives in Miami, Dallas and other cities, said they were treated well. The food was tasty, they said, and they appreciated access to doctors and lawyers. Dilley was far better than the Border Patrol holding cells, they said, or the safe houses they stayed in during their trip through Mexico.

Still, the women said, they considered Dilley a jail.

A tall fence surrounds it; guards keep watch. Women and children wear name tags stamped with the CoreCivic logo.

“We didn’t suffer. But we were locked up,” said a 29-year-old woman who called herself Lillian because she was afraid to speak publicly, in part because she said she had fled gang members attempting to extort her in Honduras. “For me, it was being locked up. You want to work, to go out. But you’re locked up.”

Dilley’s guards — not parents — set the rules: Children cannot run barefoot, officials said.

“Mothers must not leave their children alone in any moment,” not even to go to the bathroom, said signs posted in a dorm room.

If children color on walls or furniture, another rule said, “a disciplinary report will be produced.”

Everyone has to make their bed, fold their clothes and place their shoes against the wall or under the bed. Officials reward migrants with prizes for the “cleanest room.”

Officials said the rules are for the families’ health and safety. But advocates say it traumatizes children when their parents are not in charge.

Mirian, a 25-year-old mother of three children — 11, 7 and nearly 2 years old — said she struggled to sleep at Dilley. The Honduran native had to monitor each child constantly and worried about being deported or the children falling ill.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever get out,” she said, asking that her name not be used.

Migrant family residential centers expanded under the Obama administration to hold rapidly growing numbers of Central American families crossing the U.S. southern border with Mexico to seek asylum. Because of the 20-day limit on detaining children, officials say they have been forced to release most families in the United States to await an immigration hearing and many disappear.

Officials say expanding family detention under the Obama administration created a deterrent that led to a marked drop in apprehensions from 68,000 family members in 2014 to nearly 40,000 the following year.

But Gee ruled in 2015 that the government could not hold children with their parents longer than 20 days in facilities that had not been licensed by states — a decision officials blame for a record spike in crossings, more than 400,000 this fiscal year.

Gee ruled last year that “any number of other factors could have caused the increase in illegal border crossings, including civil strife, economic degradation, and fear of death in the migrants’ home countries.”

Trump administration officials say they are confident that detaining families can resolve the immigration cases quickly and combat smugglers’ claims in Central America that it is easy to enter the United States if migrants travel with a child.

Longview activist looking for people to engage in local issues, forms All Rise group

The granddaughter of a Los Angeles advocate for fair housing and job training is asking her Longview neighbors to “show up,” forming a grassroots organization to examine all areas of local life.

All Rise, the name small-business owner Cierra Evans gave to a movement that recently held its first public meeting, seeks to engage young people in conversations, projects and hands-on community organizing.

“The true goal of All Rise is to get youth involved,” she said. “We have to stand up. ... A lot of people are so fearful of things in our community that they don’t show up sometimes.”

Evans showed up last spring, challenging District 6 Longview Councilman Steve Pirtle for his post. The incumbent prevailed, but the same motives that fueled that step spurred Evans to form All Rise.

The group, co-chaired by University of Texas at Tyler political science student Kierra Green, hosted its first event Aug. 17 at the Longview Community Center.

About 20 or 25 people attended that All Rise inaugural, where Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy provided information on voting and voter registration, the El Paso Walmart shooting was discussed and human and civil rights issues were a focus of conversation.

Evans’ vision for All Rise emphasizes that first word “all.” During an interview, Evans returned several times to the phrase “all-inclusive.”

She said she hopes monthly All Rise meetings will be happening soon, with the group choosing community projects and setting goals.

“In this next couple of weeks, we’re going to be looking at what those will look like,” she said, asking for “ ... people to rise up, to come up to speak, to be present and not only to be present but to make calls or send emails.”

She said she wants members to attend local city council, county commissioner and school board meetings, where many decisions made today have long-range effects.

“So the generation that’s going to be affected ... needs to be aware of what’s happening,” she said. “Show up at city council, know what the (county) commissioners court is.”

Evans said the group might hold a debate watch when Democratic candidates have future face-offs. In another election cycle, the group could watch the Republican candidates debate.

All Rise is nonpartisan, and it seeks members of all ethnicities, Evans said.

“It’s all-inclusive,” she said. “And we don’t want to leave anyone out — I love my Republicans. ... I’m a Democrat, but I’m conservative, too.”

Evans also said she wants All Rise to include people from both sides of U.S. 80/Marshall Avenue, the city’s default line for predominantly white and minority populations.

“We are trying to connect one Longview,” she said.

The 30-year-old says the focus is on Longview’s young adults, to engage with a community too many simply desert their hometown for urban areas.

She comes by her passion for community organizing honestly. Evans’ grandmother, the late Nora King, was a longtime president of the Nickerson Gardens Resident Management Corp. in Los Angeles, serving as a liaison between residents of the largest low-income housing project west of the Mississippi and the L.A. City Council.

“We don’t want people to leave Longview to get what they need and then come back to Longview to retire,” she said. “So many people want to stay; I know a lot of people want to stay. Believe it or not, our generation wants that kind of comfort.”

The young members will be reaching out to their parents’ generation, though, once it’s up and rolling.

“Then we can become connected to the older generation — and just how to help them,” she said. “Then we can advocate for their needs and ours. We don’t want anyone to be left out.”