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Three Big Things

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  • Democrats racing to try and secure year-long budget deal before Republicans take control of the House

    Congressional Democrats are racing to secure a year-long budget deal before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.

    Democrats want a budget deal that would keep the government funded from Dec. 16, when current funding terminates, until the fall of 2023. The move would allow President Joe Biden's administration to fund pet initiatives while blocking the Republican House from exerting its influence immediately.

    "Government funding should rise above politics when the well-being of our troops and our national defense is on the line," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Monday on the Senate floor, noting the geopolitical threats posed by Russia and China.

    House Republicans take a different view. Some argue that since they won control of the chamber in the midterm elections, Congress should enact a short-term funding bill until January. The move would force Biden and Democrats, who narrowly retained control of the Senate in the midterms, to grant House Republicans concessions in exchange for passing a budget.

    "A deal that vanquished poison pills and went to January would enhance the leverage of Republicans to dictate policy terms," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

    Democrats say that all the work already done on a year-long budget would go to waste if Congress waited until January.

    Officially, the 12 appropriations bills making up the budget are set to expire when the new Congress takes off on Jan. 3. Similarly, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committees are set to retire this term. In the House, the appropriations gavel is set to change hands.

    Complicating matters is that Congress has to pass a government funding bill by Dec. 16 or face a shutdown.

    Biden administration officials have warned that allowing the deadline to come and pass without a year-long budget deal could put the nation's security at risk because a short-term government funding bill keeps spending levels flat.

    "Under [a short-term funding bill], Congress prohibits the military from commencing new initiatives, such as those requested by our theater commanders in the Indo-Pacific and around the world or in support of service members and their families at home," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a letter to House and Senate lawmakers on Monday. 

    "We must break this pattern of extensive inaction. We can’t outcompete China with our hands tied behind our backs," wrote Austin.

    Adding to concerns is that Republicans are set to only hold a narrow majority within the House next year. That reality could make passing a government funding bill difficult without support from Democrats next year.

    Conservatives within the House Freedom Caucus are already lining up against more military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The White House has requested that nearly $38 billion in new Ukraine aid be included in the spending vehicle that passes Congress before January.

    Earlier this year, 57 Republicans in the House and 11 in the Senate opposed providing further aid to Ukraine unless the administration put sufficient accountability measures in place to prevent corruption.

    "Americans deserve to know where all of that money went," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. "It's time for a thorough audit."

    Some Democrats say the looming GOP opposition makes it all the more important for Congress to pass a year-long budget before January.

    Democrats racing to try and secure year-long budget deal before Republicans take control of the House | Fox News

  • Judge grants new trial for Mobile man convicted of murder

    MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A man convicted of murder last month will get a do-over, a judge ruled Monday.

    Judge Edward McDermott, a retired jurist who presided over the trial because the full-time circuit judge was suspended at the time, heard arguments last week on the defense request to set aside the guilty verdict and either acquit David Cordero-Hernandez or give him a new trial.

    The judge noted in his four-page order that prosecutors had failed to call four key witnesses to the stand, including a man who pleaded guilty to murder in the case.

    “The goal of our justice system is to find the truth,” the judge wrote. “To find the truth we must seek the truth.”

    Defense attorney Dom Soto said he would have preferred the judge dismissed the charge, entirely, but added that a fresh shot before a jury is significantly better for his client than a conviction.

    “He at least agreed, you know, that they didn’t prove anything,” he said.

    Mobile County Chief Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood said prosecutors are considering whether to appeal on grounds that the judge abused his discretion and usurped the role of the jury.

    “We’re disappointed with the decision to grant a new trial, especially after the jury unanimously convicted him of murder,” he said.

    Testimony from the trial indicated that victim Tracie Dennis went to Cordero-Hernandez’s home around dusk on Dec. 16, 2019, to collect $300 for work he had done for the defendant. He never left the property. Police later found his body buried in the back yard, and a medical examiner determined the victim had been hogtied, beaten, repeatedly stabbed and shot.

    Two days after the shooting, Cordero-Hernandez, his wife, the confessed shooter and another woman living at the house left for Jacksonville, Florida.

    Marcos Oslan, whose mother was friends with Cordero-Hernandez’s mother in Puerto Rico, was living with the defendant and working for him. He later pleaded guilty to the murder but refused to testify at Cordero-Hernandez’s trial. The judge wrote in his order that Cordero-Hernandez could be convicted of murder only as an aider and abettor of Oslan – an argument prosecutors made at trial based, in part, on the necessity of a second person to inflict all of the injuries that Dennis suffered.

    But, McDermott wrote, “There was no evidence presented indicating that Defendant was in a physical location whereby he would have aided the perpetrator if it became necessary.”

    As with Oslan, the two women also did not testify. But jurors heard statements all three made to police indicating that Cordero-Hernandez was not involved in the murder.

    The judge wrote that he is convinced a fifth person was present during the murder, a man named “C.J.” A police detective testified that that he went by that man’s home but that there were no cars parked outside. The defense indicated that it later tracked him down but that he was in federal custody by the time of the trial.

    The judge ordered prosecutors to “use all reasonable efforts” to secure his and the other witnesses’ attendance at the new trial.

    Blackwood said that should the DA’s Office lose an appeal – or decide not to appeal – prosecutors definitely would try the case again. He said it is highly unusual for a judge to order a new trial without new evidence, a witness recanting his testimony or some other change.

    “I’ve never seen this happen,” he said.

    Judge grants new trial for Mobile man convicted of murder (fox10tv.com)

  • Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, begins erupting

    Ash and lava have begun spewing out of the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii's Big Island -- the largest active volcano in the world.

    The activity, which began Sunday around 11:30 p.m. and continued into Monday, is the first eruption from Mauna Loa in nearly 40 years.

    The lava was contained to the summit, and there are currently no threats to populated areas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    However, the eruption has migrated from the summit to the northeast rift zone, where fissures are feeding several lava flows, according to the USGS, which advised residents at possible risk from Mauna Loa lava flows to review preparedness and refer to Hawaii County Civil Defense information for further guidance.

    Lava flows are significant enough to be visible from Kona, dozens of miles away.

    Mauna Loa is so large it takes up more than half of the Big Island. The last time it erupted was in March and April 1984.

    The volcano has erupted dozens of times since the 1880s, allowing volcanologists to get to know its "personality," Michael Poland, research geophysicist for the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, told ABC News. This means that scientists are predicting that the flow will likely abate now because the initial eruptions are typically the heaviest.

    Since the eruption is occurring to the northeast, where the peak's slope seaward is more gentle, it would take weeks of a continuous eruption for it to reach Hilo, Poland said.

    Gov. David Ige told ABC News Live that he was not yet worried about any impact on Hawaiians.

    "I think right now we're not that concerned," Ige said. "The eruptions and the fissures are very high up. ... In fact, there really is no communities or no structures anywhere close to the fissures that are erupting right now."

    "It will take weeks, if not longer, of eruptions occurring in order for the Northeast Rift Zone eruption to reach any kind of community or get close to any infrastructure," the governor added.

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has closed the Mauna Loa Summit Area to visitors as a precaution

    In conjunction with the lava flow, there were more than a dozen earthquakes in the region of more than 2.5 magnitude early Monday morning, according to the USGS.

    Lava was still erupting from the summit and was overflowing from the caldera Monday, according to USGS Volcanoes. The National Weather Service issued an ashfall advisory for depositing ash and debris, as well as light accumulation of ash on vessels, until 6 a.m. along the Alenuihaha Channel, Big Island windward waters, Big Island leeward waters and Big Island southeast waters.

    The NWS advised that vessels should remain at port or avoid advisory areas, and those with respiratory sensitivities should take extra precautions to minimize exposure.

    Falling volcanic ash and debris can also render engines or electronics inoperative, according to the NWS.

    Hawaii is home to several active volcanos, including the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island, one of the most active in the world.

    Volcano activity has been recorded all around the globe over the past year.

    Major eruptions could be underway from two volcanoes on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula after clouds of ash and lava began spewing on Nov. 20.

    In July, an eruption at the Sakurajima volcano in Japan prompted evacuation orders for residents nearby in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima.

    And last week, marine geologists announced that the underwater volcano eruption that occurred on Jan. 15 in the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean is the largest ever recorded.

    Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, begins erupting - ABC News (go.com)

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