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Trump: US, allies attacking Syria to stop chemical weapons

WASHINGTON — The United States, France and Britain together launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday. Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump announced the airstrikes from the White House.

Syrian television reported that Syrian air defenses have responded to the attack.

Trump said the U.S. is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.

Trump did not provide details on the joint U.S.-British-French attack, but it was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing “a strong deterrent” against chemical weapons use. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.

Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.

The allied operation comes a year after the U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.

Speaking from the White House, Trump said, “To Iran and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?”

Trump called the two countries those “most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime.”

Trump said, “The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”

He added ominously, “Hopefully someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.”

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

A broader question is whether the allied attacks are part of a revamped, coherent political strategy to end the war on terms that do not leave Assad in power.

Lieutenant governor touts state budget programs in Glens Falls visit

GLENS FALLS — New money to expand educational opportunities, protect women’s rights and increase shared services among governments are some of the highlights of the new state budget that Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul shared in an appearance Friday at Crandall Public Library.

The new $168.3 billion state budget includes $225 million to help municipalities share services. That is a big increase from the current year, according to Hochul.

“We will match your first year’s savings — you come up with a plan to do something that’s never been done before,” she said to about 50 local officials and guests at the library.

Hochul said she understands that consolidating can be a scary premise, but she also came to understand the importance of those efforts during her time as a Hamburg town councilwoman and Erie County clerk.

She recalled sharing a beach sweeper with a neighboring town that shared a beach.

Health insurance is another option for sharing, she said.

“Imagine if you had the ability to have a health-care consortium,” she said.

Hochul said a major focus in the state involves trying to offset the impact of the federal tax law change that capped at $10,000 the amount of state and local taxes that people can deduct on their federal return.

What the law did was reduce taxes for 38 states and increase taxes for 12, including New York, she said.

“That equates to a 30 percent tax increase for you, compared to the previous year,” she said.

Hochul is fighting for a repeal of the law and planning to challenge it in the courts. In this budget, the state provided an option for employers to implement a payroll tax and get a deduction. The state also creates two state-operated charitable contributions funds for improving health care and education. Taxpayers may claim these contributions as charitable deductions. It also has authorized school districts and local governments to create these funds.

Hochul said the state has worked to shed its reputation as a high-tax state 1 limiting state spending growth to less than 2 percent a year.

“We are very invested in trying to reduce the tax burden, otherwise it undoes everything we’ve worked so hard to do,” she said.

The reduction of income tax rates will continue to be phased in, according to Hochul.

Another priority is education. This year’s budget provides $26.7 billion to education.

“We’re double the national average in what we spend on students,” she said.

Hochul said she and the governor believe that more money should be directed to the high-needs districts. Wealthy districts may be spending $33,000 per pupil compared with $11,000 per pupil for less affluent schools, according to Hochul.

The budget provides funding to allow schools to serve breakfast and lunch to everyone, thus avoiding “lunch shaming” involving children receiving a special meal — such as a peanut butter sandwich — because they cannot afford to buy lunch.

“No child should have to deal with that,” she said.

Another priority of the state is increasing the number of girls pursuing science, technology, engineering and math as a career. Hochul cited a statistic that there are fewer young women studying STEM fields at college than there were in 1983.

The budget allocates another $6 million for computer science initiatives.

There are many opportunities in the STEM field, according to Hochul. The median income upstate is around $40,000, but jobs in STEM are paying double that.

This will be the second year of the Excelsior Scholarship, which covers the balance of tuition at public schools that is not covered by other grants. This year, the household income limit to be eligible for the grant is increasing from $100,000 to $110,000.

The state is also investing in expanding broadband, with the help of private-sector funding, to ensure that 10 percent has access to high-speed internet. This was a particular priority for the North Country.

“We sat here and heard the stories of individuals that said my kids can’t do their homework unless they’re in the parking lot of the library because we don’t have broadband,” she said.

Hochul also highlighted the achievements on the women’s agenda — requiring sexual harassment training for state contractors, prohibiting taxpayers from picking up the tab on any sexual harassment lawsuit and requiring offenders to reimburse the state for any harassment judgments. Other changes include requiring rape kits to be kept for 20 years, instead of 30 days, and banning sexual contact between police officers and someone in their custody.

In addition, 30 percent of state contracts are supposed to be awarded to minority and women-owned business. Also, judges will be able to determine whether someone charged with a domestic violence crime should be allowed to retain their guns.

The Legislature also required disclosure of who is paying for advertising on social media.

There will also be $100 million allocated for a third round of downtown revitalization grants — something Glens Falls is familiar with as a recipient of $10 million in the second round. Hochul said the rest of the state is going to be looking to Glens Falls as a model. She is excited about the initiatives the city has planned, including the year-round farmers market, facade improvements grants, mixed-use building redevelopment and the public arts trail.

“We’re going to wear out our scissors cutting so many ribbons in this area when they get going,” she said.

There is also $200 million for opioid addiction treatment and prevention. She said the issue is personal to her as she lost a nephew a few years ago because of an addiction that stemmed from getting hooked on the medication when it was prescribed for an injury.

The visit had some lighthearted moments, such as when Mayor Dan Hall presented Hochul with a red shirt that had “GF Nation” written on the front.

“Can I get an Adirondack Thunder one yet?” she said.

Washington County joining nationwide opioid lawsuits

FORT EDWARD — Washington County is joining the opioid manufacturers lawsuit.

The county plans to hire the law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy of New York City, one of the major firms handling the lawsuit in New York.

One of the top laywers at the firm, Paul J. Hanly Jr., has been named co-counsel to oversee the more than 200 lawsuits nationwide against opioid manufacturers.

He has been suing them for more than a decade. In January, he and two other lawyers were named by a federal judge to manage the federal litigation and oversee nearly 100 other law firms representing plaintiffs in more than 200 cases.

Opioid manufacturers are being sued in many states on the grounds that they encouraged doctors to overprescribe opioids with a full understanding of the addictive nature of the painkillers. Lawsuits also allege that manufacturers ignored signs that opioids were being used illegally.

Warren County and Saratoga County are also suing the opioid manufacturers.

Washington County supervisors interviewed two law firms before deciding on Simmons, Hanly and Conroy. The firm won’t charge the county anything now, but will take a cut of any settlement obtained in the case.

Supervisors plan to vote on the issue next Friday, but approved it unanimously in committee Thursday.

Now county officials have to crunch numbers. They must determine exactly how much money the county had to spend because of opioid addictions.

They plan to look closely at child welfare costs, such as CPS investigations and the cost of caring for a child in foster care. They also plan to count the cost of jailing addicts, prosecuting them and paying for their public defenders.

Other costs will include time that sheriff’s deputies spent on drug cases, buying Narcan to stop overdoses and even the cost of medical care for those on Medicaid. Any expenses related to the opioid crisis will count.

In the lawsuit, the county will seek to recover those expenses from the manufacturers of the drugs. The defendants include Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Endo International Plc, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp. They have denied wrongdoing.

They are facing cases in many states, with Ohio’s cases scheduled to start first.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio recently set the date for a jury trial for three of the cases before his court. The jury trial would be held in March 2019. He has pushed for a settlement to occur before then.

In Oklahoma, a trial has been set for May 2019.

No date has been set in New York yet, but Washington County attorney Roger Wickes said he expected all of the cases would eventually be merged into one and handled in one court.

NY-21: Finley did not file petitions by deadline

As of close of business Friday, Republican congressional candidate Russell Finley, Lisbon, had not filed his petition signatures with the New York State Board of Elections in Albany.

According to Cheryl Courser, deputy director of public information, candidates had until close of business Friday for mailed petitions, postmarked no later than Thursday, to arrive at the board of elections.

Finley, a St. Lawrence County cattle farmer, real estate broker and seven-time U.S. Olympic Bobsled team member, set-out to unseat incumbent Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, last year.

After several attempts on Friday, The Post-Star was unable to reach Finley by phone regarding his campaign bid.

“As a lifelong resident of the district, I have driven the roads, ridden the trails, hiked the mountains, and farmed the land. I have seen what this district was, and what it has become,” said Finley on his “Finley for Congress” webpage. “It is time we had someone in Washington D.C. who knows, firsthand, the struggles we face every day and will work tirelessly to make sure we are properly represented and not forgotten.”

In earlier interviews, Finley told The Post-Star he is a strong supporter of President Donald Trump; and he believes there was no collusion with the Russians related to the president’s campaign.

Finley was one of nine congressional candidates vying to oust Stefanik, but he was the only Republican challenger.

Running on a platform that included Second Amendment protections, Finley pointed to the abundant resources of the region and asked why are people struggling.

“As a farmer, I work every day because that is what my job demands. As a Real Estate Broker, I see more and more “For Sale” signs going up and more of our friends and family leaving,” he said.

Finley ran for New York State Assembly in District 116 in 2016, winning 17 percent of the primary vote.