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Americans to begin saying their goodbyes to George H.W. Bush

WASHINGTON — Americans will begin saying goodbye to former President George H.W. Bush today when his body arrives in Washington for public viewing in the Capitol Rotunda — a rare honor that will be bestowed on a man who earned the respect and admiration of many with his leadership, bravery and grace.

The public viewing will kick off four days of events that will include a state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday and a private service at Bush’s longtime church in Houston on Thursday. But tributes from leaders around the world have been pouring in since his death Friday night.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called him “a perfect American” for how “he served the country in so many capacities.”

“He never forgot who he was,” Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Bush’s presidency, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “He never let it all go to his head. He was a man of great humility.”

Bush, who died at his Houston home at age 94, will be buried Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.

In Washington, D.C., he will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from 7:30 p.m. today to 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. President Donald Trump, who ordered federal offices closed for a national day of mourning on Wednesday, is to attend with first lady Melania Trump and other high-ranking officials.

James Baker, Bush’s former chief of staff and secretary of state, called his boss’s tenure in office “a consequential presidency” because of his foreign policy achievements.

“Yes, he’s a one-term president ... but he is going to be and was a very consequential one-term president. And I would argue far and away the best one-term president we’ve ever had,” Baker told ABC’s “This Week.”

Bush’s crowning achievement as president was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading Iraq in 1991 in a war that lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

At the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.

A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday.

Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, in a union that lasted until her death earlier this year.

“He knew what combat was all about,” Powell said on “This Week.” ‘’He knew that combat meant the death of people, people on your side and people on the other side. And so he wanted to avoid a war.”

Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the U.S. economy began to sour and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people. He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend.

It wasn’t only former political rivals Bush found easy to befriend.

Roberto Molina, whose family owns Molina’s Cantina, one of Bush’s favorite Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston, said he remembers Bush’s kindness to his staff whenever he would stop by to eat.

“No matter which party you’re affiliated with, everybody seemed to say the same things about President Bush,” Molina said. “He was a down-to-earth person, approachable, and just a good man.”

Trump and Xi buy time in trade war. That was the easy part.

WASHINGTON — The dinner-table diplomacy that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China conducted over the weekend produced something as vague as it was valuable: an agreement to keep talking.

Forged over grilled sirloin at the Group of 20 summit Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the ceasefire Trump and Xi agreed to Saturday night illustrated that the leaders of the world’s two largest economies can at least find some common ground, however tentative and ill-defined it might be. The truce pulled the United States and China back from an escalating trade war that was threatening world economic growth and had set global investors on edge.

“The prospects for real progress on substantive issues with China are now better than at any point in the Trump administration,” said Andy Rothman, investment strategist at Matthews Asia.

What Trump and Xi achieved was the gift of additional time — 90 days, at least — to try to resolve the thorny and complicated issues that divide them. Most important among them, and perhaps the most intractable, is the U.S. argument that Beijing has deployed predatory tactics in a headlong drive to overtake America’s global supremacy in high technology.

Yet reaching a permanent peace will hardly be easy. The Trump administration asserts, and many experts agree, that China systematically steals trade secrets and forces the U.S. and other foreign countries to hand over sensitive technology as the price of admission to the vast Chinese market.

Washington also regards Beijing’s ambitious long-term development plan, “Made in China 2025,” as a scheme to dominate such fields as robotics and electric vehicles by unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign competitors.

This year, Trump imposed an import tax of 25 percent on $50 billion in products, then hit an additional $200 billion worth of goods with 10 percent tariffs. Those 10 percent tariffs were scheduled to ratchet up to 25 percent on Jan. 1 if the United States and China failed to reach an agreement to at least postpone that move.

In Buenos Aires, they did reach such an accord. Trump agreed to delay the scheduled U.S. tariff increase for 90 days while the two sides negotiate over the administration’s technology-related complaints. In return, China agreed to buy what the White House called a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial” amount of U.S. products to help narrow America’s gaping trade deficit with China. If the Chinese did eventually increase such purchases, it would be warmly welcomed in the U.S. Farm Belt, where producers of soybeans and other crops have been hurt by Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs.

But can China be trusted? Its contentious tech policies lie at the heart of its economic vision, and Beijing could prove reluctant to sacrifice its ambition, no matter what longer-term agreement with the United States it eventually reaches.

“Make no mistake about it: The issues that we have with China are deep structural issues, and you’re not going to resolve all of them in 90 days or even 180 days,” said Dean Pinkert, a former commissioner on the U.S. International Trade Commission and now a partner at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed. The Trump administration is “going to have to decide how much progress they need in order to define it as a win.”

Parag Khanna, founder of the FutureMap consultancy and author of the forthcoming book “The Future is Asian,” noted that in speeches to domestic Chinese audiences, Xi is still promoting the economic self-reliance that Made in China 2025 symbolizes.

“What he’s saying to his own people has more long-term validity than what he’s saying to Trump over dinner for the sake of everyone saving face,” Khanna said.

Even so, the Buenos Aires breakthrough may calm investors who worried about financial damage from the trade hostilities. Caterpillar, Ford and other U.S. corporate giants have complained that the higher Trump tariffs, if kept in place, would guarantee higher costs and lower profits. That’s one reason the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled this fall after hitting a record close Oct. 3.

In the meantime, just as Trump dialed back the drama on one trade front over the weekend, he magnified the tension on another. En route from Buenos Aires on Air Force One, the president told reporters that he would soon notify Congress that he’s abandoning the North American Free Trade Agreement. Such a move would force lawmakers to approve the NAFTA replacement he reached Sept. 30 with Canada and Mexico — or have no North American trade bloc at all. The absence of any such bloc would hurt companies that have built supply chains that crisscross the three countries’ borders.

“This trades one trade uncertainty for another,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, tweeted. “Policy uncertainty remains unusually high for an economy that on paper should be feeling fat and happy.”

Prospects in Congress for the new deal — the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement — were complicated by the midterm elections, which left opposition Democrats in control of the U.S. House. Democrats favor provisions of the USMCA that encourage automakers to shift production back to the United States. But they say the deal must do more to protect U.S. workers from low-wage Mexican competition.

“The work is not done yet,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Adding new building, railroad ups insurance costs for Warren County

Warren County officials learned last week that adding a new building to the county Municipal Center and having to insure the county railroad will significantly increase the county’s insurance costs going forward.

Adding additional officers to the county Sheriff’s Office to serve as school resource officers also played a part in $32,500 worth of increases to the county’s annual insurance premiums to cover buildings and employees.

In all, the county will pay $670,734 for liability insurance next year because of increases to property, employees and vehicles.

“The county has some additional exposures,” said Amy Clute, the county’s director of self insurance.

Railroad insurance is a new expense for the county.

The company that operated on the county-owned rail line, Saratoga & North Creek Railway, for 6 years had been paying liability insurance costs for the railroad. But SNCR pulled out of the region last spring, so the county will have to pick up the liability insurance for the property, even though there will be no trains running for the foreseeable future. But the bridges and rails still need to be insured in case of problems.

Insurance for buildings went up by about $8,500 with the addition of the new Family Court wing at the count court complex, as the total value of the county’s property rose to $122,888,000 from just over $100,000,000 this year, Clute explained.

The Sheriff’s Office’s addition of eight school resources officers added $2,500 to the tab for police insurance, but the county hopes to pass those costs on to the school districts that haven’t been paying them so far. Some school districts built that cost into their payments for officers.

Two new “slip and fall” lawsuits that were filed against the county this year played a part in a hike in general liability coverage, Clute said. Both are still pending.

The county is insured through New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, a self-insurance program that includes over 800 municipalities.

Its insurance broker, Rose & Kiernan, will make about $12,000 in commission next year for the county’s various insurance policies, according to county documents.

Essex County coroner fed up with ‘lazy’ colleagues

“Lazy” is how Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw described the other coroners in his county.

“There is no work ethic, to put it bluntly,” he said.

The accountability of coroners has been occasionally discussed by the Essex County Board of Supervisors since 2008, and even though the board and people like Whitelaw would like to see some changes, none have come to fruition. It’s like a never-ending conversation. Now Whitelaw is so frustrated he’s threatening to quit. He said he has his resignation letter written.

Coroners respond to accidental and unattended deaths. If a person finds a dead body or someone suffers a deadly injury in public, a coroner will respond to declare the death and possibly transport the remains to a hospital. But, if a person dies in his or her home with family members watching, or in a hospital, a coroner wouldn’t be called.

After retiring from the state police in 2012, Whitelaw began working as an Essex County coroner in 2013. In that time he’s logged 255 calls, of which 38 were in areas closer to another coroner’s home. Granted, there are no specific jurisdictions for coroners; they just cover the county in general. This is one of Whitelaw’s many complaints with the current set-up.

Whitelaw is based at his home in Bloomingdale, in the northwest corner of Essex County, and he generally covers the Tri-Lakes area. But on plenty of occasions he’ll have to transport a body from Elizabethtown, Minerva or Chesterfield, all closer to where other coroners live. The other coroners — Paul Connery, Walter Marvin III and Kellie Valentine, all with backgrounds in funeral home directing — are based in Ticonderoga, Elizabethtown and Moriah, respectively.

From 2013 to 2016, Whitelaw handled only a few cases outside of the Tri-Lakes each year, which he said he didn’t mind.

“It was only a few back then, so it wasn’t much of a hassle,” he said.

That number grew in the next two years, though.

In 2016, Whitelaw went to 16 calls outside of his regular area, and 10 in 2018. Most of the calls were in the town of Chesterfield, which is only 20 minutes away from Marvin’s Elizabethtown home but an hour and ten minutes from Whitelaw in Bloomingdale.

Whitelaw said Marvin is hard to reach because he’s often absent from New York and down in Florida. Marvin also doesn’t have a phone number in the 2018 Essex County directory, just a post office box. A phone number for him in Florida was busy when the Enterprise called.

According to a 2011 article from the Press-Republican newspaper in Plattsburgh, North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi said Marvin was struggling with the same issues Whitelaw faces today.

The Enterprise called Valentine and left multiple messages, but didn’t receive any response.

“Kellie just isn’t available a lot,” Whitelaw said. “I’m fielding calls from the Department of Health, the New York State Violent Death Reporting System, (Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital), asking me how to get a hold of her because when they call, they say it goes to voicemail.”

Connery could not be reached for comment, either. His phone number listed in the directory — the one the Essex County and Ticonderoga clerks confirmed as his contact information — has been disconnected.

“It’s been well over a year now since he’s actually taken a phone call to go to a coroner case,” Whitelaw said of Connery. “Somebody actually had to go to his house to get him to go to a case once.”

County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Preston, I-Wilmington, said he wasn’t aware Connery’s listed number is no longer in service.

“I know he’s gone into hiding since his DWI charge,” Preston said.

State police charged Connery with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, after determining he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.12 percent — 0.04 above the legal limit — in Crown Point during the spring of 2017. He did not receive a suspension from his coroner position and later plead guilty to driving while ability impaired.

Connery did not run for re-election this November. That position will be filled by Jay Heald of Elizabethtown.

Heald, a funeral home director in Elizabethtown and Plattsburgh, will start his term as coroner on Jan. 1. He said he has spoken with Whitelaw about the lack of availability among the coroners and agrees with his stance, but wouldn’t comment further.

“I’m not entirely knowledgeable of the policies for the position yet, and I don’t feel comfortable commenting before I take office,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m not even sure what we get paid.”

Heald said he ran for the position because others had suggested it and he felt there is a role he’d fill.

If none of the Essex County coroners can be reached, Franklin County Coroner Ron Keough of Saranac Lake is usually called to pick up a body. However, Keough said he hasn’t been called since Whitelaw became a coroner.

Logging call data is not a requirement for Essex County coroners. Whitelaw does it of his own volition. He fills out the date, case number, decedent, cause of death, manner, location and whether there was an autopsy for each body he attends to. Whitelaw said he’s not sure if other coroners in Essex County fill out logs, but he would like it to be a standard practice.

Taking a long time to pick up a body puts law enforcement and emergency medical services at a disadvantage.

“Depending on the protocols, you could have police and emergency services tied up waiting for a coroner to get there,” Whitelaw said. “Now, if something else happens with a living, breathing person, they’re kind of stuck. They can’t go.”

This is also tough on the deceased person’s family members if they happen to be at the scene of the death, according to Brendan Keough, who is the funeral home director in Saranac Lake, as well as local fire chief and Ron Keough’s son.

“It puts the family in a tough spot,” he said, “having to wait around with the cops and EMTs, calling different coroners.”

Brendan said he doesn’t have much contact with the other Essex County coroners, just Whitelaw.

“The coroner is a critical job,” he said. “I understand Frank’s frustration, but it’d be a shame to see him go.”

Other than a basic 101 course, the coroner position doesn’t have many requirements.

With the intensity of the current opioid crisis, Whitelaw said updated coroner training is necessary. Deadly drugs such as fentanyl and the even more dangerous carfentanil are new obstacles for which police officers, EMTs and coroners need to be prepared. The drugs tend to take up space in a cut batch of heroin, but fentanyl is hundreds of times more potent and addictive, and carfentanil is pretty much poison to humans. It’s used as a tranquilizer for large animals such as elephants and rhinos. Whereas heroin and morphine affect just the user, fentanyl and carfentanil can incapacitate and even kill bystanders through respiratory failure — for example, police responding to an overdose victim.

“There have been cases around the country where responding police officers need to be Narcaned on the scene because they’ve gone in to shock,” Whitelaw said. Narcan is an antidote for opioid overdoses. It’s regularly carried by those responding to medical emergencies.

Whitelaw said the training seminars plus mileage would come out to about $850 for each coroner.

“Not a drop in the bucket for the county budget,” he said. Essex County pays each coroner $4,400 a year.

Also, the county doesn’t pay for coroner equipment or vehicles.

The problem that Whitelaw, the Board of Supervisors and Essex County as a whole run into is that the four coroners are elected positions. Eliminating or changing the duties and requirements of an elected position takes plenty of research, lawyers and time that nobody seems to have.

Whitelaw wrote a letter to the board in February 2016, expressing his frustration with unreliable county coroners and how there are no standard practices, policies or procedures for the job. He suggested assigning geographic areas of coverage and having a county dispatch call coroners. He said coroners need to be physically present to determine a death, that coroners need to document the deaths they determine and that they should be given minimum training offered by the New York State Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners.

On other occasions, he also recommended removing positions.

“I would cover the whole county myself,”Whitelaw said. “At least that way it would be fair.

“If I’m the only coroner and I’m only getting paid $4,400 a year, I’ll still do it. But when there are four corners being paid, and they’re still snug in bed or on a golf course in Florida, then I have a huge issue with that.”

Essex County Manager Daniel Palmer responded to Whitelaw’s letter that March.

“I certainly understand your frustration, but as I have indicated in the document to the Board, it would be difficult for the Board to adopt specific rules which did not run afoul of the statutory provisions of (County Law) Article 17-A,” which restricts what counties can do to elected coroners.

Preston also echoed this sentiment in a phone interview.

“They’re elected officials, which leave us very little in terms of options,” he said, “but what Frank is saying is very true. They don’t do a lot but expect the paycheck. There might be a way to fix the issues, but I don’t know the answer. I would have to research it more.”

Preston said the same situation came up when the board wanted to remove positions from certain county planning boards.

“Peopled hired attorneys, and we found out that we legally could not do it,” he said. In this case, however, he said, “Elected officials are taking the pay and not doing their job, and in my opinion, it’s criminal.”

Despite the idea that elected positions can’t be changed, Article 17-A, Section 671, Subsection 2 says, “The coroner shall perform such additional and related duties as may be prescribed by law and directed by the board of supervisors.” The language is a little bureaucratic, but essentially, Whitelaw believes this gives the board authority over how the coroners operate.

“That flies in the face of the excuse that I’ve been given by the county,” he said

Essex County’s yearly budget is close to $100 million, so what it spends on the four coroners is not even close to 1 percent of the county’s expenditures. The impact to the taxpayer is so minute, Preston said, that’s why many people don’t often question what’s going on with the coroners.

Though he said he has a passion for the job, Whitelaw has already typed a resignation letter.

“It just needs to be signed and dated,” he said. “Right now, I can’t say when I would hand it in. I love the work, and I don’t want to leave it. But at the same time, I don’t want to be, basically, used and abused.”