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Bullock tries to find middle ground on gun restrictions
Author: MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press

As a Democratic politician in deep-red Montana, Steve Bullock has long searched for a middle ground on guns. Now a presidential candidate in a party pushing hard for new gun-control laws, he still is.

While many of his Democratic opponents go all-in on new proposals for restricting guns, responding to the latest string of mass shootings, Bullock is the rare voice of caution warning Democrats about going too far. While he embraces new restrictions — including a ban on assault weapons — he also worries about the wisdom and political viability of some of the new policies on the table, and fears that Democrats may be playing into the hands of the powerful gun lobby.

“I do have a different perspective than some of the field,” Bullock said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve lived through the political narrative at times that the NRA sort of stirs up, trying to suggest that every Democrat wants to take away everyone’s guns,” he said. “So, like having to register all your firearms, I don’t think that’s good policy, necessarily, and I’m not sure that it’s that good of politics if we want to win, as an example.”

Such concerns used to be common place, even signs of political savvy. Red state Democrats openly bragged about their gun ownership and defense of gun rights, in an attempt to neutralize the issue. But in a sign of how far the party has traveled, leading presidential candidates this year are far more likely to talk up plans for requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons or registering guns. Opposition from the National Rifle Association is viewed as a badge of honor. If there’s a lane for a moderate on gun control in the race, it is nearly wide open.

Bullock’s positioning is not surprising. He won reelection as governor in 2016 despite President Donald Trump’s blowout victory in Montana and has billed himself as the Democrat who can understand Republican voters and win back the White House. But he’s struggled to win attention, support and financial backing in a crowded field topped by a former vice president who also claims sway with Trump voters. He’s at risk of not qualifying for the next debate.

As Bullock has searched for a middle ground on guns, he’s shifted some of his positions along the way. It’s an evolution he says many Americans can relate to.

“I think where I am is consistent with most people in this country right now, if we could ever get some of the divisive politics out of the issue,” he said in Thursday’s interview.

In 2000, when he mounted an unsuccessful primary campaign for Montana attorney general, he made a point of releasing a 10-point plan to address school shootings. The plan, only two years after the Columbine High School massacre rocked the nation, called for more modest changes like increased police presence in schools, more support and mentoring for students, and a law making it a state crime for a student to have a gun at school — a lapse Bullock at the time called “an outrage.”

When he ran for state attorney general again eight years later, he won despite his Republican opponent trying to paint him as soft on the 2nd Amendment. A year later, he publicly praised Montana’s Democratic senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester for opposing a suggestion from Obama Attorney General Eric Holder that the U.S. re-instate an assault weapons ban.

“Max and Jon are exactly right — we need to be enforcing the laws that we have on the books,” Bullock said in a statement released by Tester’s office. “These one-size-fits-all gun laws might be popular in some parts of the country, but they don’t work for Montana.”

In 2018, he came out in favor of universal background checks and a ban on the sale of assault weapons — policies he opposed two years earlier as he was running for reelection, according to a campaign spokesman at the time.

Bullock says the shift came in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

He and other governors met with Trump at the White House and discussed what could be done to stop future shootings. Bullock said he’s since had to order his state’s flags to be lowered seven times because of mass shootings.

“My conversion on assault weapons has been largely grounded in that,” he said.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky to get $1 million under Seattle merger
Author: Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky is receiving a nearly $1 million funding boost and is adding staffers since its merger with the group’s Seattle-based affiliate earlier this year.

Additional money was promised with the merger announced in February as the wealthier chapter for Washington, Idaho, Hawaii and Alaska looked to help in states facing tougher anti-abortion laws. The Indiana and Kentucky group’s tax filings show deficits of nearly $1.3 million in 2017 and $1.7 million in 2016 despite closing several clinics in recent years, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

The organization has been able to increase salaries for its Indiana and Kentucky jobs while adding 45 positions this year, said Chris Charbonneau, who was CEO of the Seattle-based chapter when the merger was announced and is now also leading the Indianapolis-based affiliate.

“We can help women that Mike Pence hurt,” Charbonneau said, referring to the former Indiana governor who is now vice president. “That’s hugely attractive to people who feel like they are undoing damage.”

Republican-controlled legislatures in Indiana and Kentucky have adopted numerous anti-abortion laws in recent years. Planned Parenthood, whose Indiana and Kentucky affiliates merged in 2013, provides abortions at four of its 15 Indiana clinics, but not at its two Kentucky clinics.

Kentucky officials this month urged federal appeals judges to restore a state law that threatened to close the state’s only abortion clinic in Louisville. A federal judge in June blocked an Indiana law that would have banned a second-trimester abortion procedure, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a portion of a 2016 law signed by Pence requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.

Mike Fichter, president and CEO of the anti-abortion group Indiana Right to Life, criticized the effort to seek an “influx of cash from Planned Parenthood donors from the Pacific Northwest.”

“We believe it is clear Indiana is now a test market for Planned Parenthood’s national plan to expand abortion access,” Fichter said.

Charbonneau said the Pacific Northwest affiliate is allocating $900,000 toward Indiana and Kentucky and is looking to add clinics in those states, but hasn’t decided how many or where. She said she hopes the increased presence will lead to more donor support, with a goal of having the Indiana and Kentucky operations become sustainable without funding from Seattle.

NOAA: Alaska records warmest month in July
Author: DAN JOLING, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska has been America’s canary in the coal mine for climate warming, and the yellow bird is swooning.

July was Alaska’s warmest month ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sea ice melted. Bering Sea fish swam in above-normal temperatures. So did children in the coastal town of Nome. Wildfire season started early and stayed late. Thousands of walruses thronged to shore.

Unusual weather events like this could become more common with climate warming, said Brian Brettschneider, an associate climate researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center. Alaska has seen “multiple decades-long increases” in temperature, he said.

“It becomes easier to have these unusual sets of conditions that now lead to records,” Brettschneider said.

Alaska’s average temperature in July was 58.1 degrees. That’s 5.4 degrees above average and 0.8 degrees higher than the previous warmest month of July 2004, NOAA said.

The effects were felt from the Arctic Ocean to the world’s largest temperate rainforest on Alaska’s Panhandle.

Anchorage, the state’s largest city, on July 4 for the first time hit 90 degrees at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 5 degrees higher than the city’s previous recorded high of 85 degrees.

Sea ice off Alaska’s north and northwest shore and other Arctic regions retreated to the lowest level recorded for July, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado.

Arctic sea ice for July set a record low of 2.9 million square miles. That was a South Carolina-size loss of 30,900 square miles below the previous record low July in 2012.

Sea ice is the main habitat for polar bears and a resting platform for female walruses and their young. Several thousand walruses came to shore July 30, the first time they’ve been spotted in such large numbers before August.

Effects were less obvious in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast. Lyle Britt, a NOAA Fisheries biologist who oversees the agency’s annual Bering Sea groundfish survey, was on a trawler east of the island of Saint Matthew during the first week of July.

“The temperature out there for us was in the high 70s,” Britt said. “On those boats, everything up there is designed to conserve heat, not vent heat. It was unbearably warm inside the boat.”

On the ocean bottom, Britt’s crew for the second consecutive year found scant evidence of a “cold pool,” the east-west barrier of extremely cold, salty water that traditionally concentrates Pacific cod and walleye pollock, the species that make fast-food fish sandwiches, in the southeastern Bering Sea.

Alaska’s wildfire season started in April. July’s dry and hot temperatures extended it. An expected rainy season marked by southwest winds pushing up moisture and soaking fires did not show up on time, said Tim Mowry, spokesman for the state Division of Forestry.

“It extended our fire season through the month of July,” Mowry said.

Alaska by mid-July can usually send crews to fight fires in other states, but only about 15 people have left this year. Fire danger around Anchorage and elsewhere has kept crews in Alaska.

Indian authorities begin easing clampdown in Kashmir
Author: Associated Press

NEW DELHI — Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir began restoring landline phone services on Saturday after a nearly two-week security crackdown and news blackout following a decision by India’s government to downgrade the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy.

Shahid Choudhary, a government administrator in Srinagar, the region’s main city, said restrictions were being lifted in most areas and government offices were open. He also said on Twitter that food and other supplies were available “in abundance.”

Police said restrictions on the movement of people were relaxed in several parts of the region. “Situation remains peaceful,” they said on Twitter.

Rohit Kansal, another administrator in Srinagar, told reporters that public transport buses had started operating in some rural areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He also said cellphone and internet services had resumed in some districts, but news reports said that happened only in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, which was not threatened by anti-India protests.

Security forces that blanketed the region remained on high alert after hundreds of people took to the streets for an anti-India protest following Friday prayers in Srinagar.

The government had imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on Aug. 5 to downgrade the autonomy of the region. The decision by the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi has raised tensions with Pakistan and touched off anger in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

There was a deadly exchange of gun and mortar firing between Indian and Pakistani forces Saturday across the militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the archrivals. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety, and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

An Indian soldier was killed by Pakistani forces in Nowshera sector, Col. Aman Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said in New Delhi. Earlier in the week, Pakistani security forces said firing by India in the region killed three Pakistani soldiers and two civilians in separate incidents. Both sides frequently exchange gunfire in the region and accuse each other of violating a 2003 cease-fire accord.

In Islamabad, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the country’s armed forces were fully prepared to respond to any Indian aggression.

The U.N. Security Council met to discuss Kashmir for the first time in decades, and Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador said the session showed that people in the region “may be locked up … but their voices were heard today.” The council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China and Pakistan.

President Donald Trump spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by phone on Friday and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through dialogue, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said.

Khan welcomed the Security Council meeting, saying on Twitter that “addressing the suffering of the Kashmiri people and ensuring resolution of the dispute is the responsibility of this world body.”

According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Trump said he would also talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sanders, Warren court young, black Christians
Author: BILL BARROW, Associated Press

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren framed their Democratic presidential bids in personal, faith-based terms Saturday before black millennial Christians who could help determine which candidate becomes the leading progressive alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sanders, the Vermont senator whose struggles with black voters helped cost him the 2016 nomination, told the Young Leaders Conference that his family history shapes his approach to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the rise of white nationalism in the United States.

“I’m Jewish. My family came from Poland. My father’s whole family was wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism,” Sanders said at the forum led by the Black Church PAC, a political action committee formed by prominent black pastors.

“We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives,” Sanders said, promising to use the “bully pulpit” to unite instead of divide.

Warren, a Massachusetts senator and United Methodist, quoted her favorite biblical passage, which features Jesus instructing his followers to provide for others, including the “least of these my brethren.”

“That’s about two things,” Warren said. “Every single one of us has the Lord within us. …. Secondly, the Lord does not call on us to sit back. The Lord does not just call on us to have a good heart. The Lord calls on us to act.”

Sanders and Warren are looking for ways to narrow the gap with Biden, who remains atop primary polls partly because of his standing with older black voters. Polls suggest that younger black voters, however, are far more divided in their support among the many Democratic candidates.

The senators, both of whom are white, connected their biblical interpretations to their ideas about everything from economic regulation and taxation to criminal justice and health care.

“This is a righteous fight,” Warren said, who noted that she’s taught “fifth-grade Sunday School.”

Sanders, while not quoting Scripture as did Warren, declared that “the Bible, if it is about anything, is about justice.” His campaign, he said, is “not just defeating the most dangerous president in modern American history. We are about transforming this nation to make it work for all of us.”

Warren and Sanders received warm welcomes, with notable enthusiasm for their proposals to overhaul a criminal justice system both derided as institutionally racist and to eliminate student loan debt that disproportionately affects nonwhites.

“They obviously tailored their message in a way that would resonate with this audience,” said Chanelle Reynolds, a 29-year-old marketing specialist from Washington, D.C. “But that means they spoke to issues and concerns that we care about.”

Reynolds described her generation of black voters — churchgoing or not — as more engaged than in the past, but cautious about choosing among candidates months before the voting begins. “I’m going to take my time,” she said, adding that “the last election, with Trump, shook us up, and we’re not going to let this one go by.”

Indeed, the youngest generation of voters typically doesn’t shape presidential primary politics, for Democrats or Republicans.

Black voters collectively have driven the outcome of the past two competitive Democratic nominating fights. But Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 built their early delegate leads largely on the strength of older black voters in Southern states with significant African American populations.

Those states again feature prominently in the opening months of Democrats’ 2020 primary calendar, giving black millennials in metro areas such as Atlanta, along with Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., a chance to wield their influence early in the process.

Beyond the primaries, the eventual Democratic nominee will need younger black voters to flip critical states that helped elect Trump: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

“Anybody who’s not talking to every community, particularly within the African American community, you’re running a fool’s race,” said the Rev. Leah Daughtry, a pastor from Washington, D.C., and member of the Democratic National Committee, who co-moderated the Black Church PAC forum.

Three other 2020 candidates, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Obama housing chief Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. attended the conference on Friday.

Daughtry said all Democratic candidates were invited, and she noted the absence of other leading candidates, including Biden, who is attending campaign fundraisers in the Northeast this weekend.