Brazil’s 16-year-old baseball wonder turning MLB heads

By MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press
IBIUNA, Brazil (AP) — A prospect with a 94 mph fastball gets a lot of attention, no matter where he is pitching — even when that prospect is a diminutive 16-year-old from a country with little baseball tradition.
Eric Pardinho’s blazing fastball has brought scouts to this city 50 miles west of Sao Paulo in soccer mad Brazil. The 5-foot, 8-inch tall right-hander could get a lot more attention July 2, when Major League Baseball teams can begin signing international players. Pardinho is No. 5 on MLB.com’s list of 30 world prospects to watch.
Pretty impressive for a kid who was introduced to baseball almost by accident.
“I am only here because at 6 years of age I was playing paddleball on the beach and my uncle thought my control could be good for baseball back in Bastos,” he said.
Bastos is a small town outside of Sao Paulo with a sizeable Japanese population. The Japanese began bringing their love of baseball and sushi to Brazil in the early 1900s.
Pardinho, whose mother’s parents are Japanese, started gaining attention last year when he struck out 12 in a win over the powerhouse Dominican Republic at the under-16 Pan Am Games. In September he got two outs against Pakistan — both strikeouts — in a qualifier for the World Baseball Classic, a 10-0 win played in New York City.
The young Brazilian’s changeup and slider have also earned praise from local coaches, who already see at him as a potential national star for baseball’s return to the Olympics in 2020 at Tokyo. At the moment Brazil has only one player in MLB, the Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes.
Since January, more and more visitors have come to watch Pardinho workout at a new MLB-sponsored training center in Ibiuna, another city influenced by baseball-loving Japanese immigrants.
Pardinho is eager to sign with a team and move to the United States.
“There is a lot that I will only learn when I go,” said Pardinho.
The pitcher said his height should not be an issue, though his family members still hope that he will grow more in the next year.
“Some time ago there was an issue with shorter players, but now there are teams that don’t care. It matters more that I have a safe fastball and two more good options, including a curveball that I control well,” he said.
Other MLB hopefuls agree: facing Pardinho is a huge challenge.
“Pardinho’s curveball is amazing, he is more than fast. His height doesn’t matter because his arm can do wonders,” said third baseman Victor Coutinho, also 16.
Also a pitcher, Heitor Tokar practices with Pardinho every day and believes in his friend’s future in the sport.
“Pardinho doesn’t feel any difference when he throws against players taller than him, he destroys them all,” Tokar said.
Even Pardinho’s coach, Mitsuyoshi Sato, knows the teen is headed for bigger challenges, and protects his arm. Sato pitches the soon-to-be pro no more than two innings at weekend tournaments.
Pardinho’s father Evandro makes the hour-plus drive from Bastos to check on his son, and Sato makes sure Pardinho is a priority for Yakult training center medics. Pardinho has the support of an orthopedist, a physiotherapist and a fitness trainer. He also has a technical trainer.
“He still has to improve physically and mentally. I don’t want him to do too many fastballs now because I worry about a possible injury,” said Sato. “No arm is prepared to pitch that fast, much less the arm of a kid.”
Sato believes Pardinho has room for improvement in the control of his changeup so he can spare his arm and shoulder.
Pardinho thinks if he has success, he could change baseball in Brazil.
If I do well, maybe more and more Brazilians, not only those of Japanese heritage, will think of playing on a diamond, too.”

Capitals’ Dmitry Orlov signs $30.6 million, 6-year deal

By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Dmitry Orlov developed into one of the Washington Capitals’ best defensemen last season, and he’s being rewarded with a long-term, big-money contract.
The Capitals re-signed Orlov on Friday to a $30.6 million, six-year deal that carries a $5.1 million salary-cap hit through the 2022-23 season. The substantial raise from his $2.57 million, one-year contract reflects the top-pairing role he has assumed on the blue line.
“His growth, we talked about a young player being patient, allowing him to grow, allowing him to make mistakes, allowing him to get to the next level,” coach Barry Trotz said Friday. “And with a good plan and his work ethic and him buying into it, he’s turned himself into a pretty good player, a good piece for us, and he’s getting paid for it.”
Orlov tweeted that he’s happy to stay in Washington and can’t wait for next year.
The 25-year-old Russian was the Capitals’ most improved player last season. He had six goals, a career-high 27 assists and 33 points in 82 games after missing the entire 2014-15 season with a wrist injury.
“It was a coming out party for him,” defense partner Matt Niskanen said. “He turned into a stud. He was our best D-man on many, many occasions this year.”
Orlov developed into a top-pairing defenseman with the trust of Trotz and associate coach Todd Reirden, playing alongside Niskanen late in the season and into the playoffs.
“They give me chance to play and I try to play smart and not make big mistakes,” Orlov said recently. “Thanks coaches to give me this opportunity to play more minutes and I try to do my best, try to be better than last year, try to get confidence and get my game going and get more comfortable.”
A year after being a healthy scratch in the playoffs and playing a smaller role, Orlov averaged over 19 minutes a game in the regular season and over 21 minutes in the playoffs.
“Every player like when he play more,” Orlov said. “It’s human nature. You want to play, you want to be big part of your team.”
Orlov said he tried to learn from Niskanen and cut down on some of the risky plays and mistakes he made as a younger player. Coming back from being out so long with the wrist injury forced Orlov to re-learn on-ice instincts, and the effect of that was noticeable.
“I think more than anything he’s got a good balance and you got trust in his game,” Trotz said. “That comes with reps and confidence and success, and when you have all those, which Orly has, you see that his skillset comes out offensively, defensively, he plays with a little bit of an edge, he’s good 1-on-1. There’s a lot of things that you like about Dmitry.”
MacLellan said re-signing Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer was his top offseason priority — all were restricted free agents. Last week he re-signed pending unrestricted winger T.J. Oshie to a $46 million, eight-year deal.
Cap-crunched Washington will almost certainly lose winger Justin Williams, forward Daniel Winnik and defensemen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. The Capitals have roughly $12 million in cap space left and still need to sign Kuznetsov, Burakovsy and Grubauer to new contracts.
Because of that, the Capitals are expected to be quiet in the free agent market.
“The priority is on our existing guys, our RFAs,” Trotz said. “(Capitals executives are) working hard. They’ll have a good plan. When the dust settles, we’ll see what we’ve got.”
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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Federer, Nadal drawn for Wimbledon final, 11 years after 1st

By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer
LONDON (AP) — Like a couple of old friends gathering for a reunion, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could face each other in the Wimbledon final more than a decade after their first such meeting.
The draw at the All England Club on Friday established plenty of intriguing matchups along the way, too, including what appears to be a particularly tricky path for three-time champion Novak Djokovic, who’s been struggling for much of the past 12 months or so.
Djokovic will start against big-hitting Martin Klizan, and then could face another power player in the third round: 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who stunned the Serb at the Rio Olympics last year. Get past that, and Djokovic might play the mercurial Gael Monfils or Fernando Lopez, who is coming off a grass-court title at Queen’s Club. His quarterfinal foe could be Dominic Thiem, who eliminated Djokovic in straight sets at the French Open.
Other potential men’s quarterfinals are seven-time champion Federer against 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic, who beat Federer in last year’s semifinals; two-time winner Nadal against 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic; and defending champ Andy Murray against three-time major titlist Stan Wawrinka.
If the seedings hold, Federer would meet Djokovic in the semifinals, with Nadal taking on Murray. That quartet has combined to win each of the past 14 titles at Wimbledon; Federer beat Nadal in the 2006 and 2007 finals, then lost to him in the 2008 title match .
Federer turns 36 on Aug. 8, and Nadal just turned 31, but both are back to playing quite well this year. They met in the Australian Open final in January, won by Federer, and Nadal earned his record 10th French Open title in June.
Murray’s spot at No. 1 in the ATP rankings is up for grabs this fortnight: He, Nadal, Wawrinka or Djokovic could all leave the All England Club with the top spot.
The WTA No. 1 ranking, which currently belongs to Angelique Kerber, also could change hands at tournament’s end. Four other women have a chance to take it: Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki, who already has spent time at No. 1.
The potential women’s quarterfinals are Kerber vs. Svetlanta Kuznetsova in a matchup between a pair of two-time major champions; 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Pliskova vs. two-time U.S. Open finalist Wozniacki; Svitolina vs. Dominika Cibulkova; and Halep vs. Johanna Konta, Britain’s best hope for its first women’s champion since Virginia Wade in 1977.
Konta withdrew from a grass-court tuneup in Eastbourne on Friday after hurting herself during a fall a day earlier, when she pulled off two big victories in one day after rain had jumbled the schedule, beating Kerber and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, seeded 10th in her 20th appearance at the tournament, was drawn to face Elise Mertens of Belgium in the first round. A publicist for Williams said that the former No. 1 will play at Wimbledon after a police report in Florida said the tennis star caused a car crash in early June that led to the death, two weeks later, of a passenger in another vehicle.
Williams and Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, are the only two past champions in the women’s field: Williams’ sister, Serena, is taking the rest of the year off because she is pregnant, while Maria Sharapova is injured.
Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion, is appearing in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in more than a year after giving birth to her first child. Her first-round match should be interesting — it’s against 18-year-old CiCi Bellis, an up-and-coming Californian. The winner could eventually take on Halep in the fourth round.
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AP Sports Writer Chris Lehourites contributed to this report.
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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Bulls waive veteran point guard Rajon Rondo

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls have waived veteran point guard Rajon Rondo.
The Bulls bought out Rondo for $3 million Friday rather than exercise a $13.4 million option for next season. He signed a two-year deal to come to Chicago last summer.
The 31-year-old Rondo was in and out of the rotation, chided Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade for criticizing the team’s effort and finished the season on a strong note before missing the final four playoff games against Boston because of a broken right thumb.
The four-time All-Star averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 assists. The Bulls had said Rondo would probably be back, but he became expendable when they acquired Kris Dunn from Minnesota in the Butler trade on draft night.
Chicago also waived guard Isaiah Canaan.

Trump ups trade tensions with SKorea in welcoming new leader

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and South Korea’s new leader showed joint resolve on North Korea on Friday despite their divergent philosophies for addressing the nuclear threat, yet the U.S. opened up a new front of discord by demanding a renegotiation of a landmark 2012 trade pact between the two countries.
Concluding two days of meetings at the White House, Trump and President Moon Jae-in each delivered tough talk opposing North Korea’s development of atomic weapons that could soon threaten both allies.
The “reckless and brutal regime” requires a determined reply, Trump said. And Moon, who has long advocated outreach to Pyongyang, vowed a “stern response” to provocation, promising to coordinate closely with Trump as he looks to intensify economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
While they avoided a potential conflict on the most burning national security crisis facing each country, they showed little harmony on trade.
Summoning the economic nationalism that has marked much of his international agenda, Trump highlighted America’s trade imbalance with South Korea. Two-way trade in goods and services was $144 billion last year, with the U.S. running a $17 billion deficit.
“The fact is that the United States has trade deficits with many, many countries, and we cannot allow that to continue,” Trump said. “And we’ll start with South Korea right now.”
Ahead of their first face-to-face discussions, South Korean companies announced plans to invest US$12.8 billion in the U.S. over the next half-decade. Nevertheless, Trump wasn’t placated. He said the two sides would renegotiate a 2012 free trade agreement, calling it a “rough deal” for America, echoing the sentiments he has voiced about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The White House later confirmed Trump has asked his trade representative to begin the process of renegotiation.
Trump accused Seoul of helping steel reach the U.S. at unfairly low prices. It was an apparently reference to Chinese steel. Trump also demanded that market barriers to U.S. auto makers be lifted to give them “a fair shake at dealing with South Korea.”
To rub it in, Trump called on his top economic officials to address their grievances to Moon in front of journalists.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the trade imbalance had grown sharply since the trade deal took effect due to unfair “rulemaking” governing U.S. industrial products entering South Korea, particularly autos.
It all amounted to an unusual display of one-upmanship in a meeting between close allies. After the talks, Moon largely skirted the differences on trade, calling the U.S.-South Korean economic partnership an “essential pillar” of the alliance. Such language is traditionally reserved for their joint effort in the 1950-53 Korean War and the ongoing presence of 28,000 U.S. forces in South Korea.
After the flood of accusations of South Korean wrongdoing, Moon said through an interpreter: “Economic growth and job creation will be promoted to ensure our peoples enjoy greater mutual benefits.”
South Korea is America’s seventh largest market for exported goods such as U.S. electrical machinery, aircraft, medical instruments and beef. It is also the sixth largest supplier of U.S. imported goods, benefiting Korean makers of cars, phones and pharmaceuticals.
Since the deal went into effect, American goods exports to South Korea have slipped 2.8 percent, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. At the same time, South Korean goods exports to the U.S. have boomed by 23.4 percent. U.S. services providers have fared better, with their exports climbing 29.3 percent in the last five years.
Earlier this week, Myron Brilliant, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned that reopening the agreement “could lead to its unraveling,” benefiting only U.S. trade competitors.
Despite the trade tensions, Trump and Moon sought to establish a personal bond.
Moon praised the American as a man of “determination and pragmatism,” and said Trump had accepted an invitation to visit South Korea with first lady Melania Trump later this year. Trump declared their relationship “very, very good.”
And they revealed no disagreement on North Korea, though Trump harkened back to an election campaign demand for “fair burden-sharing,” with South Korea paying more for the U.S. military presence in its territory.
Trump urged all nations to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions to starve North Korea of resources for its nuclear and missile programs. He demanded North Korea “choose a better path and do it quickly, and a different future for its long-suffering people.”
“Our goal is peace, stability and prosperity for the region — but the United States will defend itself, always will defend itself — always,” Trump said. “And we will always defend our allies.”
Moon said the leaders agreed to strengthen their deterrence and coordinate on North Korea policy, employing both sanctions and dialogue “in a phased and comprehensive approach.” He urged Pyongyang to return to negotiations on ending its nuclear program, something it shows no sign of doing.
Before Friday’s White House talks, Moon laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial monument near the Washington Mall. Vice President Mike Pence, whose father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, accompanied him. They observed a moment of silence as a lone trumpeter played “Taps.”
It was the second time on Moon’s trip he paid tribute to American veterans of the conflict. On Wednesday, he visited a memorial to Marines who in 1950 enabled a mass evacuation of Korean civilians. Those rescued included Moon’s parents.
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Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Jill Colvin and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

Canada PM meets aboriginal protesters ahead of Canada Day

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met with aboriginal activists who set up a demonstration teepee on Parliament Hill ahead of Canada Day celebrations.
The prime minister and his wife arrived at the site Friday as the national capital was abuzz with preparations for the Saturday event that is expected to bring a half million people into the downtown core. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will also attend as part of their royal tour of Canada.
Activists from the indigenous group the Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, arrived Wednesday to engage in four days of what they called a “reoccupation” to draw attention to the history of indigenous people in Canada during the country’s 150th birthday celebrations.

Venezuela’s defiant chief prosecutor requests protection

By FABIOLA SANCHEZ and CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protection Friday, days after the Supreme Court barred her from leaving the country and ordered her bank accounts frozen.
Tensions between Luisa Ortega Diaz and President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration have been steadily escalating since she contested a Supreme Court decision in late March that dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly and sparked a deadly wave of unrest.
Since then, she has become one of the few critical voices within the government — other than the sidelined congress — challenging Maduro’s push to rewrite the constitution and pressing charges against officers responsible for deaths during anti-government protests.
On Friday, Ortega Diaz’s office announced it was summoning the chief of Venezuela’s intelligence agency, Gustavo Gonzalez, to appear on suspicion of “committing grave and systemic violations of human rights.”
Prosecutors said they are investigating incidents of illegitimate detentions, arbitrary raids and cases in which people have remained imprisoned despite court orders that they be freed.
“The Public Ministry will continue safeguarding the protection and defense of Venezuelans’ human rights,” her office said in a statement.
The developments capped perhaps the most turbulent week yet in Ortega Diaz’s struggle to assert her office’s authority in a country where nearly every branch of the federal government is filled with Maduro allies.
Earlier this week, the government-stacked Supreme Court ruled that a number of responsibilities long the exclusive jurisdiction of the state prosecutor’s office would also be assigned to the pro-government public ombudsman’s office. The decision was drafted as a rogue police pilot flew a stolen helicopter over the Supreme Court, dropping several grenades and fleeing.
“This is yet another step against the democratic institutions and autonomy of the Venezuelan public prosecutor,” Diego Garcia Sayan, the United Nation’s special investigator on the independence of judges and lawyers, said Friday.
Ortega Diaz announced on Twitter she was seeking the protection of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for all workers at the state prosecutor’s office, but provided no further details.
The Washington-based body, which is an agency of the Organization of American States, is responsible for protecting human rights throughout the hemisphere. It did not respond to a request for comment.
In recent weeks, Maduro and his allies have stepped up their criticism of the prosecutor.
Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s socialist party, recently called her the “traitor prosecutor.” Ortega Diaz is a longtime supporter of the socialist administration installed by the late President Hugo Chavez, whom she frequently quotes in stating her positions. More recently, however, she has become a thorn in Maduro’s side as he attempts to proceed with a constitution rewrite that she has roundly dismissed.
“I don’t recognize these decisions,” she said this week in denouncing the Supreme Court’s move to allow the ombudsman to carry out criminal investigations. “I will defend Venezuela’s constitution and democracy even if it costs me my life.”
Ortega Diaz has reported that relatives have been threatened and harassed.
Three months of political upheaval in Venezuela triggered by the March Supreme Court decision have left at least 77 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands detained. On Friday, opposition leaders denounced the detention of more than a dozen student protesters who were loaded into the back of a truck as tear gas launched nearby drifted into the vehicle and the doors were closed.
Student leader Daniel Ascanio said 29 students were detained Thursday for participating in the protests. It was unclear what charges if any they are facing, though Ascanio said some had been able to speak with relatives and appeared “physically well.”
“We are living at a time when the national government detains youths just for expressing our desire for a different country,” he said.
Demonstrators are demanding new elections, but Maduro has vowed instead to resolve the crisis by convoking a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. The election is slated to take place in late July though polls indicate it has little public support.
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Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Christine Armario reported from Bogota, Colombia.

UN: Reintegrating ex-fighters is first challenge in Colombia

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The most urgent challenge in Colombia following the handover of the last weapons by leftist rebels is to reintegrate the 10,000 former combatants into society, a process that will be difficult, the U.N. special representative in the South American nation said Friday.
Jean Arnault told the U.N. Security Council that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have “a deep sense of uncertainty” about their physical security following their disarmament and their economic future.
The ceremony Tuesday at which U.N. observers padlocked the last containers of FARC weapons put Colombia one step closer to turning a page on Latin America’s longest-running conflict, which caused at least 250,000 deaths, left 60,000 people missing and displaced more than 7 million.
After years of thorny negotiations, the rebels reached an agreement with the government last year to transition into a political party. In January 2016, before the agreement, the Colombian government and FARC rebels jointly asked the United Nations to monitor any cease-fire and disarmament process, a rare request to the U.N. for help, which it accepted.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asked the U.N. earlier this month to establish a new mission focused on reintegration of the former guerrillas and “wider security guarantees.”
The Security Council said in a press statement Friday that it will work “towards a positive response” to Santos’ request “over the coming days.”
Council members welcomed the FARC’s laydown of arms “as a vital step forward” and urged the parties and all Colombians to join efforts to support the implementation of the peace agreement.
Arnault said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stressed that reintegration is a “daunting endeavor,” particularly in light of entrenched illegal economies, the spread of armed groups including organized crime and FARC dissidents, and “a pattern of violence against social leaders.”
The reintegration of combatants is “the first and most urgent challenge,” but the peace process “must also respond to the needs and expectations of the more vulnerable sectors of Colombian society,” Arnault said.
He said the U.N. agrees with Colombia’s government that the focus must be on deploying security forces to protect communities most affected by the war and establish the rule of law, bringing goods and services to rural areas long outside its reach, and delivering on the promise of justice for victims of the conflict.
As for the U.N., Arnault said that with the handover of the rebel fighters’ last individual arms, the U.N. mission and the FARC, with support from Colombia’s armed forces and police, can now devote their full attention to disposing of hundreds of arms caches, collecting the weapons in them, and destroying explosives and unstable armaments.
“So far 81 arms caches were visited and a large amount of explosives was destroyed,” Arnault said. “Planning is currently ongoing with FARC and the government to extract another 380 in the coming weeks, with more to follow.”
He said the U.N. “is confident that if not all, at least a high percentage of the caches can be dealt with by Sept. 1, the date at which the mission’s verification of the caches will end, and responsibility will switch to the government.”
Colombia’s U.N. ambassador, Maria Mejia Velez, told the council that the final handover of weapons “opened a new phase moving into the future.”
She said the government is fast-tracking new laws and adopting many decrees to promote economic and social development of the areas affected by the conflict and social and the economic reintegration of the FARC rebels.

Chicago police, feds team up on new effort to curb violence

By DON BABWIN, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago police, federal agents and prosecutors launched an initiative Friday aimed at stemming the flow of illegal firearms in the city as part of efforts to curb rampant gun violence that President Donald Trump says is at “epidemic proportions.”
Trump’s remark on Twitter came ahead of an announcement by Chicago police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the formation of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said an additional 20 ATF agents have been sent to Chicago. Tim Jones, the ATF’s special agent in charge of the strike force, said the agents will be assigned permanently to the city.
State police, intelligence analysts and state and federal prosecutors will target illegal guns and repeat gun offenders, Chicago police said. Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement that “we are foundationally changing the way we fight crime in Chicago.”
Trump tweeted Friday morning that “Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help.” In January, he warned Chicago about its high number of homicides, saying on Twitter that he is ready to “send in the Feds.”
Adam Collins, spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the city wants the assistance.
“Six months ago we made it clear that we would welcome additional federal support, and six months later we appreciate the 20 new ATF agents that are now arriving,” Collins said in an email. But as the police department released figures that show the number of homicides, shooting incidents and shooting victims has dropped, Collins said “the progress CPD has made this year has happened without any of the new resources from the federal government we requested.”
Police officials said they started talking about beefing up ATF’s Chicago presence in November during then-President Barack Obama’s administration and earlier this week, officials announced the ATF had loaned the city a van outfitted with ballistic testing equipment to help police more quickly solve gun crimes.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin told a Friday afternoon news conference that prosecutors are in the midst of ramping up federal gun prosecutions, saying his office has prosecuted more federal gun cases this year than in all of 2016 — and in 2016, his office prosecuted more such cases than it had in a decade.
Trump’s latest tweet said there have been 1,714 shootings in Chicago this year. According to the police department, there have been 1,703 shooting victims. There were 1,935 shooting victims in the city during the same period last year. Also, there have been 1,360 shooting incidents so far this year — 224 less than were reported during the same period in 2016. So far this year, there have been 320 homicides compared to 322 by this time last year, according to the police department.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday that the Justice Department will send more federal prosecutors to Chicago to “prioritize prosecutions to reduce gun violence.”
“The police have been demoralized in many ways,” Sessions said earlier in the day on Fox News Channel’s morning show, “Fox & Friends.” ”In many ways, the policies in Chicago have not been working. Murders are way, way too high.”
Sessions last week pledged federal assistance to 12 cities to help them develop individualized, long-term strategies to fight violence. But Chicago was not among them.
The Justice Department said that’s because Chicago already was part of a similar Justice Department program called the Violence Reduction Network, which began in 2014. Under that initiative, federal agents teamed up with their local counterparts to share resources and intelligence.
The Justice Department spokesman said the department will keep working with cities including Chicago under the new crime-fighting program, called the Public Safety Partnership. And he noted that dozens of additional ATF agents had “surged” into Chicago so far this year.
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Associated Press writers David Runk in Detroit and Sadie Gurman in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

GOP bill would let churches endorse political candidates

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Churches should have the right to endorse political candidates and still keep their tax-free status, say House Republicans targeting a law that prohibits such outright politicking from the pulpit.
Republicans repeatedly have failed to scrap the law preventing churches and other nonprofits from backing candidates, so now they are trying to starve it. With little fanfare, a House Appropriations subcommittee added a provision that would deny money to the IRS to enforce the 63-year-old law to a bill to fund the Treasury Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies.
The subcommittee passed the bill Thursday.
Republicans say the law is enforced unevenly, leaving religious leaders uncertain about what they are allowed to say and do.
“I believe that churches have a right of free speech and an opportunity to talk about positions and issues that are relevant to their faith,” said Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio.
Some Democrats say the measure comes too close to mixing church and state. They say religious leaders already have First Amendment rights, just like anyone else. But if they want to get political, they don’t have a constitutional right not to pay taxes.
Some also worry that the measure could upend the system of campaign financing by allowing churches to use their tax-free status to funnel money to political candidates.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., recalled a speech that former President John F. Kennedy gave to religious leaders when he was running for president.
“He said the pope wouldn’t tell him what to do, and the people in that audience shouldn’t be telling people on Sunday morning who to vote for,” Neal said. “I don’t think churches should be endorsing.”
Many nonprofit groups want to avoid politics. In April, 4,500 nonprofit groups signed onto a letter to congressional leaders asking them to preserve the law.
The law prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. If the IRS determines that a group has violated the law, it can revoke its tax-exempt status.
The law doesn’t stop religious groups from weighing in on public policy or organizing in ways that may benefit one side in a campaign.
The bill specifically forbids the IRS from spending money to enforce the law against “a church, or a convention or association of churches,” unless the IRS commissioner signs off on it and notifies Congress.
The bill doesn’t mention other types of non-profit groups, or even synagogues or mosques, said Nick Little of the Center for Inquiry, which promotes secularism.
“All they care about is the Christian groups, and in particular, it will end up as the extreme religious right Christian groups,” Little said. “If this goes through, this would add just another way in which unregulated dark money could be used.”
Religious leaders have been weighing in on political issues for generations, whether it’s the debate over abortion or advocating for the poor. But periodically, the IRS has stepped in when religious leaders explicitly endorse or oppose candidates.
The law is called the Johnson Amendment after former President Lyndon Johnson, who introduced it in 1954 when he was a Democratic senator from Texas. Johnson was upset because a few nonprofit groups attacked him as a communist in a Senate campaign.
The law was signed by a Republican president — Dwight Eisenhower — but Republicans have been attacking it in recent years.
House Republicans have pledged to repeal the law as part of a tax overhaul. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May discouraging the IRS from enforcing the law.
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, says the law has been enforced unevenly.
“Some churches, including my own, have been very concerned about appearing political in any way shape or form,” Tiberi said. “Churches I went to that were primarily in Democrat areas, that I would go to because I had a Democrat district, the local candidates on the Sunday mornings before the election would be introduced, would speak from the pulpit about the campaign and why the congregation should vote for them.”
The full Appropriations Committee will consider the measure after the July 4th congressional recess.
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