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gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, gcraig@poststar.com 

Balloons congregate in the sky Sunday morning during the 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival at the Warren County airport. 


Local
'It never gets old': 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival wraps up

QUEENSBURY — Sunny hills and mountains just blushing with autumn’s hues were punctuated Sunday morning with the vibrant colors of hot air balloons.

They floated in a staggered group, more leisurely than Saturday afternoon because of the slighter wind, bobbing above a rolling mist and golden sunrise.

“It never gets old,” said Mark Pluta, Saratoga Springs pilot for Friendship Ballooning.

His balloon was one of about 90 that took to the skies Sunday morning from the Warren County airport, the last day of the 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival. Organizers and regulars of the event were dumbfounded by the morning’s beauty and calm conditions, which allowed the balloons to fly more in chorus than usual.

In the blackness of 5 a.m., it’s not easy for the average person to picture flying conditions.Numbers — wind speed, temperature and other measurements — give pilots an idea, and a sparkling pi-ball, or pilot’s balloon, is released into the air to provide some visual aid as well as data. The ballooners gathered at 6:15 a.m. for their last briefing, and after a no-fly Friday and Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon’s good weather luck continued.

Pilots were also greeted by a special guest, Joan Grishkot, wife of the late Walt Grishkot, who founded the festival. She told them she’d be there for the 50th festival “if the good Lord wills it.” There were laughs.

At 6:30 a.m., “Walter’s Mass Ascension” was held in his honor.

“I will tell you one thing,” Joan Grishkot said after addressing the pilots. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, I’m just one person. What can I do?’ This is one person.”

She gestured at the festival around her.

“His work goes on, and it will as long as I can make it happen,” she added.

Grishkot also highlighted the many volunteers who make the festival happen, including director Mark Donahue. Donahue announced that by year’s end, the festival will donate $1,000 to a balloon pilot camp in Pennsylvania called Keystone State Balloon Camp, part of the Balloon Federation of America. Grishkot said there had been one already in Pennsylvania, but she said “it’s sort of crumbled.”

The balloon camp teaches aspiring young pilots safety measures, flying basics and even repair techniques. It’s something Donahue feels strongly about supporting. He said at least three people in the area had gone to the camp in Pennsylvania when it was still up and running about two years ago.

It’s something 6-year-old Jacob Bates, of Cambridge, would like to do one day. Bates has been chasing the Plutas’ hot air balloons since he was about 3 1/2, and now helps them take off and land when they fly in the area.

“We’ve got groupies,” Carol Pluta, Mark Pluta’s mother, said. “... He adopted us, so we adopted him back.”

Lyndsay Bates, Jacob’s mom, said they’ve discussed taking him to balloon camp, but participants have to be 8 years old to start.

“We’ve got something to look forward to,” she said, as they helped wrap up the “Friend Ship Too,” the name of the balloon.

The Bates’s met the balloon in the backyard of Jody DeVivo on Vaughn Road in Kingsbury Sunday morning. DeVivo said hot air balloons used to land in her backyard all the time until a couple of trees grew up. Crews did some stealthy maneuvering to avoid power lines, trees and a rock, landing the balloon basket not far from DeVivo’s basketball hoop.

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, gcraig@poststar.com 

Mark Pluta's balloon landed in the backyard of Kingsbury resident Jody DeVivo on Sunday morning during the 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival. 

Mark Pluta, who is one of the only balloon pilot teachers in the area, is now helping his mother and several others get their hot air balloon licenses, including Jessica Tidd of Hudson Falls, Marge Clark of South Glens Falls, Jessica O’Connor of Glens Falls and Keith Vorhauer of Rochester. They’re all part of his flight crew along with Sue Smith of Hudson Falls, and Gary Pluta, his dad.

Carol, who always wanted to be a flight attendant but couldn’t because, at the time she applied, she missed the height requirement by half an inch, said she’s loved exchanging her boat for the hot air balloon. She’s still waiting to take a flight exam before getting her official license, but her son has helped her along the way.

“It’s a true family affair,” she said.

The festival was for Erin Reid Coker, too. On the festival’s board of directors, Coker said he’s often too busy to take time and enjoy the sights with his daughter. Sunday morning, 8-year-old Lucy Coker got up in a butterfly balloon, accompanied by her dad.

“The flight with her and I made all that time away worth it,” he said.

As the sun set on the final day of the Adirondack Balloon Festival, the Glens Falls community gathered in Crandall Park for a final balloon send-off. At first, the pi-ball wasn’t showing the best direction, toward Aviation Mall and Lake George, where there’s not as many open spaces to land.

But the winds appeared to change, and more than a dozen balloons soared into clear, blue skies, leaving hundreds of smiling faces looking up.

Photos: 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, gcraig@poststar.com 

Mark Pluta's balloon landed in the backyard of Kingsbury resident Jody DeVivo on Sunday morning during the 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival. 


National
Kavanaugh, Fordto testify Thursday; new accuser emerges

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who says he sexually assaulted her as a teenager, as a claim of sexual misconduct emerged from another woman.

The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday night that Senate Democrats were investigating a second woman's accusation of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh dating to the 1983-84 academic year, Kavanaugh's first at Yale University.

The New Yorker said 53-year-old Deborah Ramirez described the incident in an interview after being contacted by the magazine. Ramirez recalled that Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away, the magazine reported.

In a statement provided by the White House, Kavanaugh said the event "did not happen" and that the allegation was "a smear, plain and simple." A White House spokeswoman added in a second statement that the allegation was "designed to tear down a good man."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called Sunday night for the "immediate postponement" of any further action on Kavanaugh's nomination. She also asked the committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to have the FBI investigate the allegations of both Ford and Ramirez.

The magazine reported that Ramirez was reluctant at first to speak publicly "partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident." She also acknowledged reluctance "to characterize Kavanaugh's role in the alleged incident with certainty."

The magazine reports that after "six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections" to discuss the incident.

The Associated Press tried reaching Ramirez at her home in Boulder, Colorado. She posted a sign saying she has no comment on her front door.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they found out about the Ramirez allegations from The New Yorker article and blamed Democrats for withholding the information. Spokesman Taylor Foy said the panel is looking into it.

The new information came hours after the Senate committee agreed to a date and time for a hearing after nearly a week of uncertainty over whether Ford would appear to tell her story.

The agreement and the latest accusation set the stage for a dramatic showdown as Kavanaugh and Ford each tell their side of the story. The developments could also determine the fate of Kavanaugh's confirmation, which hangs on the votes of a handful of senators.

His confirmation seemed assured until Ford, a 51-year-old California college professor, went public a week ago with her allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were in high school.

Kavanaugh, 53, an appellate court judge, has denied Ford's allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrangled with Ford's lawyers for the last week over the exact terms of her appearance. She made several requests, some of which were accommodated — a Thursday hearing, three days later than originally scheduled, and a smaller hearing room with less press access to avoid a media circus, for example. Grassley's staff also agreed to let Ford testify without Kavanaugh in the room, for there to be only one camera in the room, "adequate" breaks and a high security presence.

The committee said it would not negotiate on other points, though, including Ford's desire for additional witnesses and a request to testify after, not before, Kavanaugh.

"As with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses," Mike Davis, Grassley's top nominations counsel, wrote in an email exchange with Ford's lawyers obtained by The Associated Press. "The committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them. These are non-negotiable."

Ford's lawyers said it was still unclear who will ask questions, as Republicans were trying to hire an outside female counsel who could take over the questioning. The 11 senators on the GOP side of the dais are all men, which could send an unwanted message on live television against the backdrop of the #MeToo era. They could also use Republican staff attorneys on the committee.

Democratic senators were expected to ask their own questions.

"We were told no decision has been made on this important issue, even though various senators have been dismissive of her account and should have to shoulder their responsibility to ask her questions," the attorneys for Ford said in a statement.

As he builds a case for his innocence, Kavanaugh plans to turn over to the committee calendars from the summer of 1982 that don't show a party consistent with Ford's description of the gathering in which she says he attacked her, The New York Times reported Sunday. The newspaper reported that it had examined the calendars and noted they list basketball games, movie outings, football workouts, college interviews, and a few parties with names of friends other than those identified by Ford.

A person working on Kavanaugh's confirmation confirmed the Times account to The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

Earlier Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawyers for Ford were contesting two GOP conditions — that Ford and Kavanaugh would be the only witnesses and that an independent counsel would ask the questions.

One issue that appeared to have been resolved in Sunday's hourlong phone call between committee staff and Ford's lawyers was the panel's refusal to subpoena Mark Judge, the other person Ford alleges was in the room when the assault occurred. Judge has told the committee he does not recall the incident.

The lawyers for Ford want the committee to hear from other witnesses, including a person who conducted a polygraph of Ford earlier this year, the person familiar with the talks said. Ford's lawyers also want to call on two trauma experts, the person said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat on the committee, said Sunday he believed Ford's requests have been reasonable and that she deserves a fair hearing to determine whether her allegations are serious enough to vote down Kavanaugh's nomination. Durbin acknowledged that lawmakers will "probably not" be able to know the truth of Ford's decades-old accusation.


National
Farmers worry bailout won't be enough

WASHINGTON — Farmers across the United States will soon begin receiving government checks as part of a billion-dollar bailout to buoy growers experiencing financial strain from President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China.

But even those poised for big payouts worry it won’t be enough. And while support for Trump is near unwavering in the heartland, some growers say that with the November election nearing, such disappointing aid outcomes could potentially affect their vote.

“It’s pretty obvious that the rural agriculture communities helped elect this administration, but the way things are going I believe farmers are going to have to vote with their checkbook when it comes time,” said Kevin Skunes, a corn and soybean grower from Arthur, North Dakota and president of the National Corn Growers Association.

Corn farmers get the smallest slice of the aid pie. Corn groups estimate a loss of 44 cents per bushel, but they’re poised to receive just a single penny per bushel.

“If these issues haven’t been resolved, there could be a change in the way farmers vote,” Skunes said. “A person has to consider all things.”

Farmers are already feeling the impact of Trump’s trade tiffs with China and other countries. China has hit back hard, responding with its own set of tariffs on U.S. agricultural products and other goods.

The Trump administration is providing up to $12 billion in emergency relief funds for American farmers, with roughly $6 billion in an initial round. The three-pronged plan includes $4.7 billion in payments to corn, cotton, soybean, dairy, pork and sorghum farmers. The rest is for developing new foreign markets for American-grown commodities and purchasing more than two dozen select products, including certain fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meat and dairy.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last month that soybean growers will get the largest checks, at $1.65 per bushel for a total of $3.6 billion. China is the world’s leading buyer of American soybeans, purchasing roughly 60 percent of the U.S. crop. But since Beijing imposed a 25 percent tariff on soybean, imports prices have plunged.

The lack of initial detail about how the calculations were made left farmers scratching their heads.

Asked about the confusion, Rob Johansson, the Agriculture Department’s chief economist, responded that the USDA took into account a number of factors “including the share of production that is exported and the value of trade directly affected by the retaliatory tariffs.”

“The level of damage is not the same for each commodity,” he said in a written response to questions submitted by The Associated Press.

He estimated there would be more than 784,000 applications for relief.

The USDA has since released a detailed analysis of how the department made its calculations.

The breakdown has stunned corn and wheat farmers who say the payments are uneven and won’t do much of anything to help keep struggling farms afloat.

A lobbying group that represents wheat growers is challenging the way the administration determined payments for wheat farmers, who are set to receive 14 cents a bushel. Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said the USDA assumed U.S. wheat would be sold to China this year when it made its calculations. But the assumption was flawed, he said.

China typically makes its requests for American wheat between March and June. U.S. wheat farmers have sold, on average, 20 million bushels of wheat to China over the past three years. But none came this year, Goule said, as Trump escalated his threatening rhetoric on trade with Beijing. He hopes the per-bushel rate for wheat goes up if there’s a second round of payments.

“I am very certain that we will not sell any wheat to China this year,” Goule said. “The window we sell in has come and gone.”

The response among farmers has been mixed. While some are grateful for the help, most are eager for the trade disputes to be quickly resolved.

“Nobody wants to have an aid package. I mean, if you’re a farmer you’re in the business of producing a crop. We just want a fair price for it,” said Joel Schreurs, a soybean and corn producer near Tyler in southwestern Minnesota who sits on the board of both the American Soybean Association and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

His personal operation is about 1,000 acres. He farms an additional 500 acres with his son-in-law and other relatives. He estimates that the tariffs would cost him $40,000 to $50,000 in lost income and that he would get $16,000 to $20,000 in emergency aid.

Schreurs worries that it will be hard for farmers to get back the buyers they’ll lose as a result of the trade wars. “And in the short term we have to find another home for those beans, otherwise they’re going to pile up and it will keep prices depressed,” he said.

In the Midwest, growers typically farm both corn and soybeans. Those farmers would get payments for both under the program, which began sign-ups Sept. 4.

Perdue said checks could start going out as soon as the end of September for crops that have already been harvested; payouts are based on yield.

In a recent C-SPAN interview, Perdue said he understands growers’ frustrations.

“Farmers always live in unpredictable times,” he said. “They’re very resilient, but obviously the longer trade issues go on the longer it bears on them regarding what is the future.”

Jack Maloney says corn farmers will be getting so little in bailout aid that for roughly 200,000 bushels of corn a farmer would get only about $2,000 for their losses.

“That’s not even beer money,” said the Brownsburg, Indiana, corn and soybean grower.


National
At UN, unrepentant Trump set to rattle foes, friends alike

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump is poised to redouble his commitment to “America First” on the most global of stages this week.

In the sequel to his stormy U.N. debut, Trump will stress his dedication to the primacy of U.S. interests while competing with Western allies for an advantage on trade and shining a spotlight on the threat that he says Iran poses to the Middle East and beyond.

One year after Trump stood before the U.N. General Assembly and derided North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” the push to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is a work in progress, although fears of war have given way to hopes for rapprochement.

Scores of world leaders, even those representing America’s closest friends, remain wary of Trump. In the 12 months since his last visit to the U.N., the president has jolted the global status quo by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, starting trade conflicts with China and the West and embracing Russia’s Vladimir Putin even as the investigation into the U.S. president’s ties to Moscow moves closer to the Oval Office.

Long critical of the United Nations, Trump delivered a warning shot ahead of his arrival by declaring that the world body had “not lived up to” its potential.

“It’s always been surprising to me that more things aren’t resolved,” Trump said in a weekend video message, “because you have all of these countries getting together in one location but it doesn’t seem to get there. I think it will.”

If there is a throughline to the still-evolving Trump doctrine on foreign policy, it is that the president will not subordinate American interests on the world stage, whether for economic, military or political gain.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in a preview of Trump’s visit that the president’s focus “will be very much on the United States,” its role and the relations it wants to build.

“He is looking forward to talking about foreign policy successes the United States has had over the past year and where we’re going to go from here,” she said. “He wants to talk about protecting U.S. sovereignty,” while building relationships with nations that “share those values.”

In his four-day visit to New York, Trump will deliver major speeches and meet with representatives of a world order that he has so often upended in the past year. Like a year ago, North Korea’s nuclear threat will hover over the gathering, though its shadow may appear somewhat less ominous.

The nuclear threat was sure to be on the agenda at Trump’s first meeting, a dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Manhattan on Sunday night. Abe stands first among world leaders in cultivating a close relationship with the president through displays of flattery that he has used to advance his efforts to influence the unpredictable American leader.

This afternoon, Trump planned to sit down with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who comes bearing a personal message to Trump from North Korea’s Kim after their inter-Korean talks last week. Trump and Moon are expected to sign a new version of the U.S.-South Korean trade agreement, one of Trump’s first successes in his effort to renegotiate trade deals on more favorable terms for the U.S.

Even so, some U.S. officials worry that South Korea’s eagerness to restore relations with the North could reduce sanctions pressure on Kim’s government, hampering efforts to negotiate a nuclear accord.

“We have our eyes wide open,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “There is a long ways to go to get Chairman Kim to live up to the commitment that he made to President Trump and, indeed, to the demands of the world in the U.N. Security Council resolutions to get him to fully denuclearize.”

Trump’s address to the General Assembly comes Tuesday, and on Wednesday he will for the first time chair the Security Council, with the stated topic of non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The subject initially was to have been Iran, but that could have allowed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to attend, creating a potentially awkward situation for the U.S. leader.

Aides say the president also will use the session to discuss North Korea and other proliferation issues. While Trump is not seeking a meeting with Rouhani, he is open to talking with the Iranian leader if Rouhani requests one, administration officials said.

In meetings with European leaders as well as during the Security Council session, Trump plans to try to make the case that global companies are cutting ties with Iran ahead of the reimposition in five weeks of tough sanctions against Tehran. The penalties are a result of Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Trump also is expected to deliver a fresh warning to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons against civilians in the major rebel stronghold of Idlib would have serious repercussions. Britain and France are actively planning a military response should Assad use chemical weapons again, according to U.S. officials.

“I think he’s got a couple major possibilities really to help illuminate for the American people what America’s place in the world,” national security adviser John Bolton told Fox News Channel’s ‘Sunday Morning Futures,” previewing Trump’s U.N. appearance.