Las Vegas Mar 6 (AP/UNB) — Entrepreneur Elon Musk's dream of an express tunnel transit system could finally become a reality in Las Vegas after major setbacks in other cities.
Las Vegas' tourism agency announced Wednesday it is recommending that an enterprise backed by the divisive billionaire receive a contract to build and operate an underground tunnel system through which autonomous electric vehicles would whisk people around a mega convention center, and in the future, possibly the city's famous casino-filled corridor.
If approved, the system of just over a mile long would debut by January 2021 at the facility, which hosts more than 1 million people every year. The Musk-owned The Boring Company would build the project costing from $35 million to $55 million.
It's different from his beleaguered efforts to build underground tunnel systems in other cities because Musk will be paid for it if the contract is approved. Projects in Los Angeles and Chicago have drawn opposition and skepticism from residents and officials about whether they will actually open.
Musk has faced recent blowback because of his behavior and tweeting habits. He has had dust-ups with stock market regulators and agreed last year to step down as chairman of the board of Tesla, his electric car company.
But Las Vegas tourism officials are ready to get on board with a Musk project.
"It's really innovative. I think it will be an attraction in and of itself, frankly," Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told The Associated Press.
Details of the project have not been finalized. But Hill said the system will probably have three or four stations, each situated at entrances to the convention center's halls. People would be carried to the hall of their choice in electric vehicles moving through parallel tunnels, each running in one direction.
The fleet could include Tesla's Model X and Model 3 and a vehicle with capacity for about 16 people, Hill said. All vehicles would be fully autonomous, meaning they won't have backup human drivers.
The Las Vegas Convention Center, which attracts worldwide gatherings including the premier Consumer Electronics Show, is undergoing an expansion. When finished, convention attendees could log about two miles walking from one end to the other. The distance led officials to look for a transportation solution.
The service within the convention center is expected to be free for people attending events.
The convention center is operated by the authority, which is funded by a county room tax and is responsible for promoting the destination around the world. The tourism agency is governed by a board of directors.
The authority is expected to present to the board the recommendation to select Musk's company March 12. If approved, Hill said the agency hopes to return to the board with a full design and proposed contract by June.
Musk in December unveiled a test tunnel built under a Los Angeles suburb, allowing reporters and guests to take rides. It came almost two years to the day after Musk announced on Twitter that "traffic is driving me nuts" and he was "going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging."
"I am actually going to do this," he added in response to initial skepticism. Soon after, he began The Boring Company, tongue in cheek intentional.
The skepticism has not subsided. The Boring Company in November canceled its plans for another test tunnel in the Los Angeles area after a neighborhood group filed a lawsuit over concerns about traffic and disruptions from trucks hauling out dirt during the boring process.
Now plans for a project in Chicago appear to be in jeopardy. Neither mayoral candidate approves of plans announced in June that called for a system similar to the one proposed for Las Vegas. It would carry people between Chicago's downtown and O'Hare International Airport at speeds of up to 150 mph through underground tunnels.
Hill said he does not expect permitting processes in the Las Vegas area to put the project behind schedule should it be approved, because the city is "committed to innovation."
"Look at everything that we have built in Las Vegas, and this city and everybody who has built it found ways to make that happen," he said. "As long as this continues to make sense, I believe that we will figure out how to make it happen."
Hill acknowledged the technology that will be used in the project has not been used commercially, but he said the company has the talent to make the project a reality.
The confidence in The Boring Company is such that the authority already has optional routes for the tunnel system to expand to connect to the Las Vegas Strip, the city's downtown and McCarran International Airport. An expansion of that magnitude could be a solution to the congestion affecting the Strip and nearby areas.
"We do see it as a real opportunity and something we would like to pursue," Hill said.
Steve Davis, president of The Boring Company, said the speed at which the vehicles will move inside the convention center's tunnels will depend on the number of stations built. The technology involved in the project is being tested every day in the tunnel in Hawthorne, California, he said.
The company believes it will be able to deliver the project by the 2021 deadline, just before that year's edition of the CES tech gadget gathering. It is also eyeing the expansion possibility.
"If the community likes it, and they come, they ride at the convention center and they say 'This is great. It's comfortable. It's fast. It's awesome.' Well, there are other places it can go," Davis said.
Washington, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Hillary Clinton says she won't run for president in 2020, but vows she's "not going anywhere."
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady ruled out another campaign during an interview posted Monday by New York TV station News12 .
Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, says, "I'm going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe."
She says, "What's at stake in our country, the kind of things that are happening right now are deeply troubling to me."
She says she has spoken with several of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, and has told them, "Don't take anything for granted, even though we have a long list of real problems and broken promises" from the Trump administration.
Beauregard, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers prepared Monday to tear through the rubble of mobile homes and houses in search of survivors of a powerful tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people.
The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County's coroners' office, forcing it to call in help from the state.
"The devastation is incredible," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.
Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Sheriff Jones said. Rescuers planned to resume the search at daylight Monday.
The Sunday tornado was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half. One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road.
"It was just destruction," Baker said. "There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road."
Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs.
The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the destruction in Alabama. Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kph).
After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard. Two sheriff's vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.
In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump said: "To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming. To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!"
Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to help search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard. At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, converged on the area.
No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties other than Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. But he said crews were still surveying damage in several counties in the southwestern part of the state.
Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out Monday to assess those and other storms.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.
News footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
"The last check I had was between six and eight injuries," Erenheim said in a phone interview. "From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken."
She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths there.
Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.
Authorities in southwest Georgia were searching door-to-door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon. A portion of Interstate 10 on the Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
Washington, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Declaring it's "very clear" President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the chairman of the House committee that would be in charge of impeachment says the panel is requesting documents Monday from more than 60 people from Trump's administration, family and business as part of a rapidly expanding Russia investigation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the House Judiciary Committee wants to review documents from the Justice Department, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Former White House chief of staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Don McGahn also are likely targets, he said.
"We are going to initiate investigations into abuses of power, into corruption and into obstruction of justice," Nadler said. "We will do everything we can to get that evidence."
Asked if he believed Trump obstructed justice, Nadler said, "Yes, I do."
Nadler isn't calling the inquiry an impeachment investigation but said House Democrats, now in the majority, are simply doing "our job to protect the rule of law" after Republicans during the first two years of Trump's term were "shielding the president from any proper accountability."
"We're far from making decisions" about impeachment, he said.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump blasted anew the Russia investigation, calling it a partisan probe unfairly aimed at discrediting his win in the 2016 presidential election. "I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal & should never have been allowed to start - And only because I won the Election!" he wrote.
Nadler's comments follow a bad political week for Trump. He emerged empty-handed from a high-profile summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization and Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in three days of congressional testimony, publicly characterized the president as a "con man" and "cheat."
Newly empowered House Democrats are flexing their strength with blossoming investigations. A half-dozen House committees are now probing alleged coordination between Trump associates and Russia's efforts to sway the 2016 election, Trump's tax returns and possible conflicts of interest involving the Trump family business and policy-making. The House oversight committee, for instance, has set a Monday deadline for the White House to turn over documents related to security clearances after The New York Times reported that the president ordered officials to grant his son-in-law Jared Kushner's clearance over the objections of national security officials.
Nadler's added lines of inquiry also come as special counsel Robert Mueller is believed to be wrapping up his work into possible questions of Trump campaign collusion and obstruction in the Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. In his testimony, Cohen acknowledged he did not witness or know directly of collusion between Trump aides and Russia but had his "suspicions."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Sunday accused House Democrats of prejudging Trump as part of a query based purely on partisan politics.
"I think Congressman Nadler decided to impeach the president the day the president won the election," McCarthy said. "Listen to exactly what he said. He talks about impeachment before he even became chairman and then he says, 'you've got to persuade people to get there.' There's nothing that the president did wrong."
"Show me where the president did anything to be impeached...Nadler is setting the framework now that the Democrats are not to believe the Mueller report," he said.
Nadler said Sunday his committee will seek to review the Mueller report but stressed the investigation "goes far beyond collusion."
He pointed to what he considered several instances of obstruction of justice by the president, including the "1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a 'witch hunt'" as well Trump's abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey in 2017. According to Comey, Trump had encouraged the then-FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump has denied he told Comey to end the Flynn probe.
"It's very clear that the president obstructed justice," Nadler said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has kept calls for impeachment at bay by insisting that Mueller first must be allowed to finish his work, and present his findings publicly — though it's unclear whether the White House will allow its full release.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House intelligence committee, on Sunday also stressed that it's too early to make judgments about impeachment.
"That is something that we will have to await Bob Mueller's report and the underlying evidence to determine. We will also have to look at the whole body of improper and criminal actions by the president including those campaign finance crimes to determine whether they rise to the level of removal from office," Schiff said.
Nadler and McCarthy spoke on ABC's "This Week," and Schiff appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
South Korea, Mar 3 (AP/UNB) — South Korea and the U.S. are eliminating their massive springtime military drills and replacing them with smaller exercises as part of efforts to support diplomacy aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The decision announced by both countries Sunday is an olive branch to North Korea. But it will likely raise worries about how the allies will maintain their readiness in the event that military tensions erupt again in the wake of the recently failed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The Pentagon said in a release the U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs decided to conclude the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of exercises.
It said the allies agreed to maintain firm military readiness through newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programs.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo "made clear that the alliance decision to adapt our training program reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner," the statement said.
Seoul's Defense Ministry released a similar statement.
Jeong expressed his disappointment at the lack of agreement at the Trump-Kim summit but still hopes that Washington and Pyongyang would continue negotiations, the South Korean statement said.
According to U.S. officials, the new training will be done in smaller drills, tabletop exercises and simulations, and it will involve smaller units, such as battalions and companies rather than massive formations involving thousands of troops, as they had in the past.
Officials said the Pentagon will focus on smaller exercises and mission essential tasks, which include the ability to integrate airstrikes and the use of other weapons systems, drones, surveillance assets, logistics and communications.
Last November, a month before he resigned as defense secretary, Jim Mattis disclosed that the U.S. and South Korea would scale back and tone down the spring exercises. He said the aim was to avoid setting back diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear weapons. He described it as a reorganization of the exercises, not an end to maneuvers on the peninsula.
Trump has long complained about the cost of military drills with South Korea.
After his second summit with Kim ended without any agreement in Hanoi on Thursday, Trump spoke again about the cost of annual military drills. "It's a very, very expensive thing and we do have to think about that, too," Trump told reporters.
Following his first summit Kim in Singapore last June, Trump caught many in the U.S. and South Korea by surprise by suspending the allies' summertime military drills. He called joint drills "very provocative" and "massively expensive."
The U.S and South Korea also have since suspended a few other smaller joint drills.
Trump has also pushed South Korea to increase its financial contribution for the cost of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the country as deterrence against North Korea. He previously threatened to withdraw troops from South Korea and Japan if they refused to pay more.
The end of the springtime war games will benefit North Korea, which has described them as a rehearsal for invasion and responded with its own costly military exercises and weapons tests, including firing a new intermediate-range missile over Japan last year.
North Korea's state media on Sunday didn't immediately comment on the drills' cancellation.
After the Hanoi summit, the U.S. and North Korea blamed each other for the breakdown of the talks. But both sides stopped short of pulling out of negotiations.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.