Sacramento, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — Xavier Becerra became perhaps the nation's most influential attorney general when he was named California's top lawyer two years ago, and he has since used his post atop what some call the "Resistance State" to pummel President Donald Trump's administration with dozens of legal actions.
Heading into 2019, he may turn up the heat even more, buoyed by his overwhelming endorsement from voters, a Democratic U.S. House and a more aggressive governor who takes office Monday.
Becerra kicked off the new year on Thursday by leading a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general in appealing a recent ruling by a conservative federal judge in Texas that declared the Obama-era Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The law that Becerra called the "backbone of our health care system" will remain in place while the case is considered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
In all, California's first Latino attorney general says he has filed or joined more than 100 briefs and other legal actions — including 45 lawsuits — against the Trump administration, mostly targeting its environmental and immigration policies. He has scored some significant victories, most notably in defending former President Barack Obama's "Dreamers" program that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, and in defending the bulk of California's so-called sanctuary laws that limit state cooperation with federal immigration agents.
"We're going to keep respecting immigrant families, like my own, who work hard to build a better California," Becerra said at one of the numerous news conferences he has held in English and Spanish, sometimes twice in one day, to criticize Trump policies.
Trump once threatened to pull all immigration agents out of California, which he predicted would create a "crime mess like you've never seen."
Becerra, 60, was appointed attorney general by departing Gov. Jerry Brown, and in November won the support of nearly two-thirds of voters over Republican Steven Bailey, a retired judge. Bailey criticized Becerra for reacting to "every tweet coming out of Washington" instead of focusing on reducing crime.
In Democratic-dominated California, however, Becerra's biggest criticism from a Democratic primary opponent, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, was that he didn't sue Trump more.
Becerra's campaign website calls him the son of immigrants, although his father, Manuel, was born in Sacramento and grew up in Mexico. His mother, Maria Teresa, was born in Mexico and came to the United States after marrying his father.
Becerra says his father "was more immigrant than my mom" because he spoke Spanish on road construction crews, while his mother spoke English at her clerical jobs.
He mentions his parents at every opportunity and used to wear his father's wedding ring as his own.
Becerra's longtime friends also credit his parents for his success.
"Hard-working, commitment to education, strong integrity and character: He never wavered from those values," said former California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, a longtime state legislator who gave Becerra his first political job running Torres' state Senate office in Los Angeles.
Becerra quickly learned the benefits and pitfalls of L.A. Latino politics when he moved there in 1986 to take the job.
Within a few years he went from becoming an assistant attorney general to winning an open state Assembly seat after he says his wife, a perinatologist (an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies), told him to "get it out of your system."
He almost immediately began campaigning for an open congressional seat and was elected to the first of 12 two-year terms. There he made immigration and health care issues a priority as he rose to become Democratic caucus chairman before Brown picked him in 2016 to replace Kamala Harris, who won a U.S. Senate seat.
"It was really a meteoric rise," said David Ayon, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and an analyst at the political opinion research firm Latino Decisions. He has known Becerra since they attended Stanford University at the same time.
Becerra was among the first of a "new generation of Latino candidates in Southern California that were really highly educated — young, energetic and had the appearance of being these Boy Scouts," said Ayon, co-author of "Power Shift: How Latinos in California transformed politics in America."
Don Thomas, who has known Becerra since kindergarten, said Becerra learned to stay calm and self-controlled in high school as a varsity golfer and an exceptional poker player. Becerra studied the advice of famous golfers even as he practiced with a set of used clubs costing less than $100.
"I'm going to read about it, I'm going to study it, then I'm going to practice my ass off," Thomas said. "That's just the way he went about things."
Teachers and friends routinely mispronounced Xavier, sometimes nicknaming him "Zav" or "X." Becerra didn't start correcting them with the proper Spanish pronunciation, "HAH-vee-air," until college.
Unlike his father, Becerra recalls no overt discrimination but cringes when remembering how, nearly 30 years ago as a young politician, two women at a chamber of commerce reception told him, "We like you a lot; you blend so well."
Lori Kalani, co-chair of the Cozen O'Connor law firm's state attorneys general practice, represents business clients who often aren't particularly happy with California's aggressive environmental and consumer protection laws, like its nation-leading internet privacy law. But she credited Becerra with being a quick learner and being "extremely open-minded to opposing opinions."
Critics from both parties said his concentration on Trump means his office neglects other core duties, like combating opioid misuse or seizing guns from those no longer allowed to have them.
Becerra said he intends to devote more of his agency's time to priorities including white collar crime, elder abuse and human and sex trafficking. But he created new bureaus to protect the Affordable Care Act, women's reproductive rights and environmental laws, he said, "to defend the people, the values and the resources of our state."
The attorney general's office has long been a stepping stone for politicians, including Brown and Harris, and Becerra's rise fueled speculation about a future bid for governor or U.S. Senate. Becerra ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles mayor in 2001, explored a Senate run before his appointment, and was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016.
The attorney general's office gives him a "perfect platform" for moving up, said Torres.
"But I don't think he's in any rush to do so. He's very thoughtful, methodical, in how he proceeds," Torres said. "I don't think there's anything that's beyond his reach when he's ready to move."
Kabul, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says at least seven border police officers were killed when their checkpoint came under attack by insurgents in southern Kandahar province.
Aziz Ahmad Azizi, spokesman for the provincial governor in Kandahar, says four other officers were wounded in the attack in the Spin Bolduk district.
He added that 16 insurgents were killed and 11 others wounded in an ensuing battle that took place over several hours late Friday.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the attack but they have been carrying out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces, despite stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country's 17-year war.
Beijing, Jan 5 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Beijing's new international airport is expected to handle 45 million passengers annually by 2021 and 72 million by 2025, according to the country's civil aviation regulator.
Beijing Daxing International Airport, set to start operation this year, is designed to become "a large international aviation hub, a new driver of development for the country and a comprehensive transport hub in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region that supports the Xiongan New Area's development," according to a statement from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
Located 46 km south of downtown Beijing, the new airport is aimed at taking pressure off the overcrowded Beijing Capital International Airport in the northeastern suburbs. It sits at the junction of Beijing's Daxing District and Langfang, a city in neighboring Hebei Province.
While the new airport alleviates pressure, Beijing Capital International Airport will be positioned as an important hub for the Asia-Pacific region and serve the capital's core functions, the CAAC said.
Its passenger traffic is expected to be reduced to 82 million annually, according to the statement.
The airport handled over 100 million passengers last year, the world's second busiest airport in passenger traffic.
China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines will be the main carriers at the new airport. Overseas airlines can choose which airport to use or operate in both airports, according to the CAAC.
Islamabad, Jan 5 (Xinhua/UNB) -- At least four people were injured on Saturday morning in a car bomb blast in Pakistan's northwest city of Peshawar, police said.
According to the police, the bomb planted in a car exploded with a big bang in the Kala Bari market area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of the country's northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Security forces, police and rescue teams rushed to the site and shifted the injured to the Lady Reading Hospital of the city. All the wounded persons are reportedly in a stable condition.
Police said the preliminary investigation showed that a big quantity of explosives was planted in the car and it was parked in the market.
Police feared that the miscreants wanted to attack the market during busy hours. However, the bomb exploded accidentally in the morning when the market was closed, police said.
Over 12 shops and several vehicles were also damaged in the explosion. Law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area and started a search operation.
No group has claimed the explosion yet.
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — Rain, wind and surging seawater from a tropical storm buffeted coastal villages and world-famous tourist resorts on southern Thailand's east coast on Friday, knocking down trees and utility poles and flooding roads.
One person was reported dead and another missing after a fishing boat with a crew of six capsized in high waves, but there were no reports of major damage by nightfall. It appeared that Tropical Storm Pabuk caused aggravation during the country's high tourist season but less damage than had been feared.
Airlines and boat operators suspended operations for safety reasons and tourists were forced to change travel plans.
Beaches were closed, but even with the bad weather approaching, tourists on the popular island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand continued to patronize bars and restaurants catering to them.
That was good fortune for the tourism industry, whose safety problems were highlighted last July when 47 Chinese tourists drowned after their boat sank in rough seas near the popular resort of Phuket.
Ahead of this week's storm, more than 6,100 people in four provinces were evacuated, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
The Meteorological Department said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour at late afternoon, down from 75 kph (47 mph) when it hit land shortly after noon.
It continued to warn of strong winds and waves 3-5 meters (10 to 16 feet) high in the Gulf of Thailand and 2-3 meters (6 to 10 feet) in the Andaman Sea. It advised all ships to stay ashore through Saturday and warned of possible storm surges on the Gulf coast.
"We can expect heavy rain and downpours, flooding and flash floods in the area throughout the night," department Director-General Phuwieng Prakhammintara said.
Evacuation efforts were especially intense in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 800 kilometers (480 miles) south of Bangkok, where authorities sent trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people in danger zones to leave.
"You cannot stay here. It's too dangerous," they repeated from truck-mounted loudspeakers.
Koh Samui appeared to have been spared much of the brunt of the storm.
Rain there stopped by Friday evening, said Joe Kieta, and American visitor, "so it seems like the worst is past us."
Kieta, editor of California's Fresno Bee newspaper, said in an email that roads on the island had light debris, his hotel's beach area was closed and guests were discouraged from going out.
Southern Thailand also has popular resort destinations on its west coast on the Andaman Sea, and they now await the storm.
The navy said Thailand's sole aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was on standby at its base east of Bangkok, prepared to sail to help with relief efforts at a moment's notice.
PTT Exploration and Production Public Co. Ltd. said it inspected its offshore gas platforms in the Gulf of Thailand and plans to resume production on Sunday. It said all staff were safe.
There had been fears that the storm would be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 people dead. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.