New York City Mayor Tests Chilly Waters For Presidential Run

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stands out in a crowd. But does he have any shot of standing out in the packed field of potential Democratic candidates for president?
A would-be progressive standard bearer, de Blasio has spent the past few months exploring a run, traveling to events in early primary states including New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and appearing on “The Simpsons” and “The View.”
So far, scant evidence of enthusiasm for his candidacy has emerged. He’s drawn sparse crowds — or no crowds at all — at his out-of-state speaking engagements.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 76% of New York City voters believe their mayor should not run.
The headlines chronicling his flirtations with the race have been snarky at best, including The New Republic ‘s “Bill de Blasio’s Embarrassing Quest for National Fame” and Vanity Fair ‘s “Lord Help us, Bill de Blasio is Still Thinking About Running for President.”
De Blasio has been undeterred.
“I’m glad I could unify the people of New York City,” he quipped when asked about the Quinnipiac poll. “My whole history has been as an insurgent and an underdog,” he said in an earlier TV interview .
Observers of New York politics say even if de Blasio doesn’t have much chance of winning, a run could raise his profile and possibly position him for a role in another Democrat’s administration.
“Part of what he’s doing is campaigning for a chance to be in the Cabinet or maybe an ambassador,” said Mitchell Moss, an urban policy professor at New York University and onetime adviser to de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. “By acting as a candidate, you raise your profile politically. You’re not just known as the mayor of New York, you’re known as a person with national aspirations.”
Term limits prevent De Blasio, 57, from running for mayor again after 2021.
“When you’re term-limited and you’re looking for a new job, why not try the obvious path? It’s free publicity,” said veteran political consultant George Arzt.
A former city councilman, public advocate and federal housing official, de Blasio was elected in 2013 pledging to fight the inequities he said had turned New York into “two cities,” one rigged to benefit the rich and another impossible to navigate for the poor.
In that race he’d also been an underdog. The early favorite was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who would have been New York City’s first female mayor. Former congressman Anthony Weiner joined the race and was briefly the front-runner until he embroiled in another sex scandal.
Voters, though, went for de Blasio in the Democratic primary, partly on the strength of ads featuring his biracial family. In the general election, he easily pushed aside a respected Republican civil servant, Joe Lhota, who had criticized him as a “socialist.” In the early moments of his mayoralty, he seemed to have a shot at becoming a national voice on the left.
In office, de Blasio won praise for expanding full-day prekindergarten citywide and for curtailing stop-and-frisk policing.
But he also developed a reputation for self-inflicted wounds.
Early in his tenure, he offended the state’s governor, fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who then spent years taking every opportunity to embarrass and belittle de Blasio.
Federal prosecutors investigated de Blasio’s political operation over possible campaign finance law violations before deciding not to press charges. Two of his donors pleaded guilty to charges related to contributions to de Blasio.
De Blasio also narrowly avoided a federal takeover of the city’s troubled public housing authority.
He easily won re-election in 2017, but liberals turned elsewhere for inspiration, most recently to freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
De Blasio has also governed more like a business-friendly centrist than some of his liberal supporters expected. He backed a deal to offer Amazon nearly $3 billion in incentives for a headquarters in New York, only to see the deal collapse when the company got frustrated with local opposition.
A March 11 Monmouth poll found that 18% of Democratic voters nationwide had a favorable opinion of de Blasio while 24% have an unfavorable view.
Still, de Blasio has pulled off come-from-behind wins before, including in 2009 when he ran for the citywide position of public advocate.
Arzt, who was de Blasio’s spokesman during that race, remembers feeling dejected when a poll pegged de Blasio’s support at 9% of likely Democratic primary voters, compared to 42% for the front-runner.
“He didn’t lose any sense of optimism,” Arzt said of de Blasio. “He just looked at it and said, ‘That’s the highest he gets and that’s our floor.’ And he won.”
Asked Friday in a radio interview whether he is contemplating running for president, de Blasio reiterated that he has “not ruled it out.”
In hinting at a White House campaign, de Blasio joins a long line of New York City mayors who have run for president or flirted with doing so, including John Lindsay in 1972, Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Bloomberg, who announced last month he would not seek the 2020 Democratic nomination.
“There is something about being mayor of New York that makes them all feel they should be and could be president,” Moss said.
None were able to make the leap. De Blasio may or may not be the next to try.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.

100-Year-Old Yoga Instructor Keeps Moving, Dancing

Associated Press

HARTSDALE, N.Y. (AP) — A 100-year-old yoga instructor has no plans to stop practicing and teaching.
On a spring day in Hartsdale, a northern suburb of New York City where she leads her classes, Tao Porchon-Lynch said she first encountered the ancient practice at age 7 in her native India. Strolling along a beach, she was transfixed by a group of boys doing yoga poses. When her aunt told her the movements were “not ladylike,” she responded, “If boys can do it, I can do it.”
By the time Porchon-Lynch was a teenager, already teaching yoga, she was able to explain how to breathe in a healthy way — especially to people in awkward sitting positions.
“I said, ‘You’re squashing your lungs. Your lungs are not down in the navel, they are above,'” she said.
She also has advice for herself. “When I wake up in the morning, I look at the sun and I say, ‘This is going to be the best day of my life’ and it will be. It always is.”
Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi awarded her the prestigious Padma Shri Award for exceptional achievement.
Despite four hip replacements, she also does ballroom dancing at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. And she’s been featured on the television show “America’s Got Talent.”
Porchon-Lynch lives alone in her suburban apartment, but when needed, she has a circle of care that includes current and former students and friends dropping by, plus members of a wine society she’s in.
“Her life is a yoga path,” says Sylvia Samilton-Baker, her yoga student who is also an instructor.
And that comes down to just breathing, which keeps Porchon-Lynch nimble as she approaches 101 on Aug. 13.
“The breath is teaching us — listen to it,” she says. “Feel your lungs expand outward, stretch your hands up towards the ceiling and feel the energy there. Breathe in the breath of life and breathe out peace.”

Strong Storms Leave Tens If Thousands Without Power

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Tens of thousands of utility customers are without power as powerful storms roar through the mid-Atlantic region.
The storms caused the roof to collapse Monday morning at a New Jersey apartment complex, though no injuries were reported. The weather also disrupted rail service in the region and caused some delays at airports.
The storms — containing heavy rains, lightning and strong winds — swept across the South Sunday after unleashing suspected tornadoes and flooding that killed at least eight people, injured dozens and flattened much of a Texas town. Three children were among the dead.
Two children were killed on a back road in East Texas when a pine tree fell onto a car they were riding in a severe thunderstorm Saturday near Pollok, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southeast of Dallas.

Q&A: Trendy CBD Rocks Retail World, But Does It Work?

Associated Press

There is very little science behind most of the health claims made for CBD, the cannabis product turning up in cosmetics, foods and dietary supplements.
With mainstream retailers Walgreens and CVS offering CBD skin products, it’s easy to believe there must be something special about the trendy ingredient. But the claims are largely unproven, quality control standards don’t exist and the legal status of CBD-infused food is in doubt.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to hold a public hearing May 31 to gather more information on the science, manufacturing and sale of cannabis compounds such as CBD.
A look at what we know as U.S. regulators work out what will and won’t be allowed:
CBD is one of more than 100 compounds found in marijuana. It’s extracted using alcohol or carbon dioxide in factories. It’s added to oils, mixed into creams and lotions and sold in candies and liquid drops.
Widely sold online, CBD now is going mainstream. Prices range from $12 to $150 an ounce at high-end shops.
CBD often comes from a cannabis plant known as hemp, which is defined by the U.S. government as having less than 0.3% THC. That’s important because THC is what causes marijuana’s mind-altering effect.
CBD doesn’t get people high, although it may be calming. Keep in mind some CBD products may contain THC, whether or not the label says so.
People drug tested for work, addiction programs or because they take prescription opioids should take note: CBD products have caused people to fail urine drug screens.
If you believe the hype, CBD treats pain, relieves anxiety and both helps you sleep and keeps you focused.
Most claims are based on studies in rats, mice or in test tubes. Some human research has been done, but in small numbers of people.
One exception: For two rare seizure disorders, the evidence for CBD was strong enough to convince the FDA to approve GW Pharmaceutical’s drug Epidiolex, which contains a purified form.
The FDA has sent warning letters to companies marketing products with claims for CBD’s effects on cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia and drug addiction.
Only drugs that have been reviewed by the FDA as safe and effective can make claims that they treat or prevent diseases or medical conditions. Many CBD producers attempt to sidestep the issue by using only vague language about general health and well-being.
Scant research means not much is known about side effects either. In epilepsy research, CBD changed the way the body processed other drugs. That suggests CBD could interact with medications in ways we still don’t know about.
The most common side effects of the CBD drug Epidiolex include sleepiness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, increases in liver enzymes, exhaustion, rash and infections. The potential for liver injury and other risks can be handled with medical supervision, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said earlier this month, but less is known about how that would be managed without oversight. And there are questions about overlap if multiple CBD products are used.
For now, the FDA has said CBD is not allowed as an ingredient in food, drinks or dietary supplements.
In stating its position, the FDA cited a provision of the law prohibiting food makers from using active drug ingredients or those still undergoing substantial research. But the agency doesn’t have the resources to police all the CBD products that are already available, said Marc Scheineson, a former FDA official.
“They’re not going to pull a thousand products from the market,” he said.
The FDA’s authority is over interstate commerce, and local officials have taken differing approaches. In New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, officials are warning eateries to stop selling it in food and drinks. Maine passed a law allowing it in foods and other products in the state.
Skin creams and cosmetics may be on safer footing with the FDA, but that too remains uncertain, said Camille Gourdet of RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Durham, North Carolina. Though cosmetics aren’t subject to premarket approval by the FDA, they could run afoul of regulations if they make specific health claims.
Marijuana itself is illegal under federal law; most states that have legalized it allow marijuana-infused foods and candies, called edibles.
What you buy may contain much less CBD than the label states — or much more. It may include more THC than you want and it may be contaminated with mold or pesticides. Ask to see testing reports.
A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 70% of CBD products were mislabeled. Researchers used an independent lab to test 84 products from 31 companies.
“You’re really flying by the seat of your pants when you buy this stuff,” said author Marcel Bonn-Miller of University of Pennsylvania.
A product labeled as containing 100 milligrams of CBD may only have 5 milligrams or it may have 200, said Bonn-Miller, now an adviser for a company that sells CBD and other cannabis products. He did not work in the industry when he did the research.
“I wouldn’t trust any of it until I knew independently it was safe,” Bonn-Miller said.
CBD research is planned or underway for cancer, autism, diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, alcoholism with PTSD and psychiatric conditions. Results will take years, but some people aren’t waiting.
“They are vulnerable and really hoping to feel better,” said Karen Hande, a nurse practitioner at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.
She became an expert in CBD because so many of her cancer patients were trying it. She tells them the evidence isn’t enough to back the claims, but “they want to believe something is going to work.”
Follow AP’s complete marijuana coverage:
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.

National Enquirer parent explores possible sale of tabloid

By BERNARD CONDON AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The supermarket tabloid under fire for paying hush money to a former Playboy model to help Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign is on the auction block.
The parent of the National Enquirer said Wednesday that it is exploring a possible sale as part of a “strategic” review of its tabloid business. The decision by American Media comes after the tabloid said it paid $150,000 to keep Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump and being accused by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos of blackmail.
American Media said it was considering a sale so it could focus more on other parts of its business, including its teen brand and broadcast platforms.
“Because of this focus, we feel the future opportunities with the tabloids can be best exploited by a different ownership,” said American Media CEO David Pecker in a statement.
Pecker is a longtime Trump ally who helped bury potentially embarrassing stories about the future president over the years by paying hush money in a tabloid practice called “catch-and-kill.” The Associated Press reported last year that Pecker kept a safe that held documents on hush money payments and killed stories, including records on ones involving Trump.
In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan agreed not to prosecute American Media in exchange for the company’s cooperation in its investigation of campaign violations. That probe eventually led to a three-year prison term for Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for campaign violations among other charges.
American Media came under fire this year from Amazon founder Bezos for what he said were threats to publish explicit photos of him following a January story on him that included lurid texts exchanged with his mistress, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos said the tabloid promised not to publish the photos if he stopped his private investigators from trying to find out how the tabloid obtained the texts. Bezos took to social media to accuse the National Enquirer of blackmailing him.
An American Media attorney denied that the tabloid committed blackmail, but the attack from Bezos threatened potentially big legal costs and at a bad time for American Media. The company is struggling under a heavy debt load after years of borrowing to buy other publications.
The Bezos attack also threatened to upend American Media’s non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors. The Associated Press reported in February that prosecutors were looking into whether the publisher violated terms of the deal, which included a promise not to break any laws in the future.
American Media is controlled by its biggest investor, a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management. A phone message seeking comment from Chatham was not immediately returned.
In addition to the National Enquirer, American Media said it was also considering selling two other brands, Globe and National Examiner.
American Media owns news, celebrity and sports publications such as Us Weekly, Star, OK!, In Touch, Life & Style, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Snowboarder and Surfer.

Handwritten draft of NY state constitution going on display

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The handwritten manuscript draft of the New York state constitution, created during the Revolutionary War, is going on public display in downtown Albany.
The state Department of Education says the document will be on display April 15 through April 20 on the 11th floor of the Cultural Education Center, home of the New York State Museum and State Archives , which holds the draft among its collection of 250 million records dating back to 1630.
The complete, official text was published as the state constitution in Fishkill in 1777. It was officially adopted in Kingston on April 20, 1777, establishing New York as a state.
A final copy of the 1777 state constitution doesn’t exist. Historians say it’s possible the complete document was destroyed after it was sent to the printer in Fishkill.

Cuomo backs free tuition for kids of fallen service members

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he supports making attending a state college or university free for the children of service members who died while performing their official duties.
The Democrat’s comments Wednesday come after Republicans blamed state lawmakers from Cuomo’s party for blocking the proposal.
The proposal would also cover room and board without the need for additional scholarships.
Republicans objected this week after a Democrat-led legislative committee blocked the Assembly bill from proceeding to a vote.
Cuomo says the Legislature still has time to pass the measure before adjourning in June.
New York students from families making $110,000 a year or less can already apply for free tuition under the Excelsior Scholarship.
Lawmakers voted this year to extend the Excelsior scholarship to New York students brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

3 big NY hospital systems, nurses reach tentative agreement

NEW YORK (AP) — Three of New York’s biggest hospital systems have reached a tentative agreement with nurses.
The New York Times says the four-year contract agreement reached on Tuesday would affect the Mount Sinai, NewYork-Presbyterian and Montefiore (mahn-tuh-fee-OHR’) hospital systems.
It calls for annual pay raises of 3 percent, filling about 800 vacant nursing jobs, and spending $25 million a year to hire additional nurses.
A dispute over staffing levels had spurred about 10,000 nurses to threaten a strike .
Anthony Ciampa of the New York State Nurses Association says nurse representatives would meet with managers within a month after ratification to set minimum staffing levels for each hospital unit, based on the number of patients treated there.
The hospitals’ lead negotiator, Marc Kramer, predicts the agreement will become an industry “trendsetter.”
Information from: The New York Times,

AP source: Prosecutors to meet with Bezos in extortion probe

By JIM MUSTIAN Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New York are planning to meet with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about his allegations that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him with help from Saudi Arabia.
A person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press the billionaire will meet with prosecutors in the coming days.
The person was not authorized to discuss the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bezos security consultant Gavin de Becker accused the Saudi government last month of gaining “private information” and access to Bezos’ phone.
The tabloid’s parent company has had business dealings with Saudi Arabia.
Bezos says the Enquirer threatened to publish explicit photographs of him unless he stopped investigating how the magazine obtained private texts between Bezos and his mistress.
The Enquirer and Saudi Arabia have denied wrongdoing.

‘Smallville’ actress pleads guilty in sex-trafficking case

By TOM HAYS Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — TV actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty Monday to charges she was involved in a scheme to turn women into sex slaves for the spiritual leader of a cult-like upstate New York group, a development that came on the same day jury selection began for a federal trial in the case.
Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by Keith Raniere and the purported self-help group called NXIVM.
“I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and I was wrong,” Mack told a Brooklyn judge.
Mack – best known for her role as a young Superman’s close friend on the series “Smallville” – said that after months of reflection since her arrest, “I know I can and will be a better person.”
The actress is to be sentenced Sept. 11 on two racketeering counts that each carry maximum terms of 20 years in prison. However, it’s likely she would face far less time under sentencing guidelines.
The plea means Mack will avoid going to trial with Raniere, wealthy heiress Clare Bronfman and another member of Raniere’s inner circle, Kathy Russell. All have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.
About two hours after Mack’s guilty plea, potential jurors got their first glimpse of the jailed Raniere at a proceeding where they were instructed on questionnaires to be filled out as a first step in the selection process. Opening statements are scheduled for April 29 for a trial that is expected to last up to six weeks.
The question of who would be seated at the defense table that day had remained unanswered in the wake of new allegations that Raniere exploited a teenage girl. The accusations gave his co-defendants even further incentive to seek separate trials and engage in plea negotiations.
Court papers allege NXIVM formed a secret society of women who were branded with Raniere’s initials and forced to have sex with him. Defense attorneys have insisted any relationship between Raniere and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actress and other women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual.
On Monday, Mack said that at Raniere’s direction, she obtained compromising information and images of two unidentified women – called “collateral” within the group – that she threatened to make public if they didn’t perform “so-called acts of love.”
The jury questionnaire covers several topics, including asking candidates for their opinions about “rich individuals” and people who “engage in relationships with multiple sexual partners” and whether they “believe that people under the age of 17 should be able to consent to sex with adults.”