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Balloons, Broadway Stars and Security at Macy’s Parade

One of the nation’s biggest outdoor holiday events, the parade makes its way through 2 miles of Manhattan with marching bands, performers from Broadway hits, elaborate floats and signature giant balloons. Olaf from the Disney movie “Frozen” and Chase from the TV cartoon “Paw Patrol” will be among the new balloons Thursday, along with a new version of the Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame.

The parade also will feature heavy security, including officers with assault weapons and portable radiation detectors among the crowds, sharpshooters on rooftops and sand-filled city sanitation trucks poised as imposing barriers to traffic at every cross street. 

“Every year the NYPD has done more to keep this event tonight and the parade itself safer,” Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio told crowds gathered to watch the balloons being inflated Wednesday. “Because we understand we are dealing with a very challenging world. And so the amount of resources and personnel we put in has increased each year to make us safer.” 

Authorities say there is no confirmation of a credible threat to the parade, but it comes after a truck attack on a bike path near the World Trade Center killed eight people in October. Weeks earlier, a gunman in a 32nd-floor Las Vegas hotel room rained bullets on a crowd at a country music festival, killing 58 and injuring hundreds.

 New York City’s mayor and police brass have repeatedly stressed that layers of security, along with hundreds of officers, will be in place for the Thanksgiving parade and that visitors shouldn’t be deterred. But they’re asking spectators to be alert for anything suspicious. 

Police officers will escort each of the giant balloons to help monitor wind speeds and ensure the wafting characters don’t go off course, but winds weren’t expected to climb above 17 mph.

 In 2005, a balloon caught an unexpected gust of wind and struck a lamppost in Times Square, injuring two people. Since then, the parade has been accident-free. 

The 91st annual parade begins at 9 a.m. and will be broadcast live on NBC. Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, Flo Rida and Wyclef Jean will be among the stars celebrating, along with performances from the casts of Broadway’s “Anastasia,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” plus a dozen marching bands. 

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Australia Calls on US to Build Asia Presence

Australia on Thursday called on the United States to build a strong presence in Asia and bolster ties with “like-minded” partners while warning against China’s rising influence.

A more insular United States would be detrimental to the liberal nature of the world’s “rules-based order,” the government said in a 115-page foreign policy white paper.

“Australia believes that international challenges can only be tackled effectively when the world’s wealthiest, most innovative and most powerful country is engaged in solving them,” the government said.

Roadmap to future

The white paper is a guide for Australian diplomacy and provides a roadmap for advancing its interests.

The election of President Donald Trump represented a step toward a more isolationist world, which could be negative for Australia’s export-dependent economy, commentators have said.

Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement in January, shortly after he took office.

“Strong and sustained U.S. engagement in the international system remains fundamental to international stability and prosperity,” the government said in the paper.

“Without such engagement, the effectiveness and liberal character of the international order would erode.”

Australia is one of the staunchest U.S. allies, and troops from the two countries have fought alongside each other in all major conflicts for generations.

But the economic growth and power that the United States has enjoyed since the end of the World War II is now being challenged by China, Australia said.

Australia and China have close economic ties, but China is suspicious of Australia’s close military relationship with the United States.

‘Tensions, benefits’

Australia warned in the paper of risks it faces, particularly in the “Indo-Pacific region” because of a shift in the balance of power.

While the government recognized the economic benefits from China’s rise, it was also trying to “wish China away,” said Jane Golley, deputy director at the Australian Centre on China in the World, Australian National University.

“To actually drop the word ‘Asia’ from ‘Asia-Pacific’ undoes three decades of diplomatic effort,” Golley said, referring to the use of the phrase “Indo-Pacific” which came up 120 times in the paper. “Asia-Pacific” was not used once.

The United States and some of its allies have recently been talking up their vision of the “Indo-Pacific,” instead of the “Asia-Pacific,” in a play on words aimed at undermining the influence of China.

“There is a small reference to China’s geo-economic strategy in the paper, but the emphasis is on the tensions that could create, rather than the economic benefits,” Golley said.

“We’ll have to see how China reacts to this but they’re not going to like this policy.”

Australia-China relations low

Relations between Australia and China sank to a low point this year after Australia rejected high-profile Chinese investments, citing “national interest.”

Australia has also shown little enthusiasm for China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative, which aims to connect China to Europe and beyond with infrastructure projects.

The initiative was mentioned just once in the paper.

“We are not embracing the future,” Golley said. “We are holding on to the past and reaching on to the life jacket rather than thinking of building a whole new ship.”

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Search Continues for Missing Sailors After US Navy Plane Crashes in Western Pacific

Search and rescue operations continued Thursday for three sailors still missing after a U.S. Navy transport plane crashed Wednesday into the western Pacific Ocean.

The Navy said the twin-propeller C2-A Greyhound aircraft plummeted into the sea about 925 kilometers (575 miles) southeast of Okinawa while it was on a routine mission taking passengers and cargo from a U.S. base in Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

It said eight of the 11 people aboard were rescued about 40 minutes later and taken to the Reagan where they were reported in good condition.

The Navy said several U.S. and Japanese naval ships and aircraft have, so far, covered more than 320 nautical miles in their search for the missing.

There was no immediate explanation for the crash, and the Navy said the incident is being investigated.

Military exercises

U.S. President Donald Trump, at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the Thanksgiving weekend holiday, said via Twitter that he is monitoring the situation.

“Prayers for all involved,” he said.

The Reagan was operating in the Philippine Sea as part of joint exercises with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, part of 10 days of training designed to increase defensive readiness and interoperability in air and sea maneuvers between the two countries.

More than 14,000 U.S. personnel are participating in the drills, which also include the guided-missile destroyers USS Stethem, USS Chafee and USS Mustin, and a maritime patrol and reconnaissance squadron.

Fifth Navy incident this year

Wednesday’s crash was the fifth major Navy incident in Asian waters this year.

Two fatal accidents left 17 sailors dead and prompted the Defense Department to remove of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

The destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in August off Singapore, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead and five injured. The USS Fitzgerald, another destroyer, collided with a container ship in waters off Japan in June, killing seven sailors.

After investigations, the Navy concluded the collisions were avoidable, resulting from widespread failures by commanders and crew members, who did not recognize and respond quickly to the emergencies as they unfolded. The Navy has called for improved training, and increasing sleep and stress management for sailors. 

Separately, in January, the USS Antietam ran aground near Yosuka, Japan, and the USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel in May.

Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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Vote on Sweeping Tax Bill Expected in US Senate

With control of the U.S. Congress up for grabs next year, the Senate is days away from an expected vote on a major tax bill that Republicans say will make American corporations more competitive globally but that Democrats say will force the United States to borrow even more from China and other foreign creditors.

“For too long, we have been losing jobs to overseas competitors, in part because our businesses pay some of the highest taxes in the industrialized world,” said Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota in a statement. “This plan would make U.S. businesses more competitive, which would create jobs and increase wages for American workers.”

The Republican plan would cut the tax rates Americans pay on their income and increase deductions for children, while eliminating deductions for state and local taxes. Corporate taxes would be slashed from a maximum rate of 35 percent to 20 percent. The Senate version would also repeal an Obamacare requirement that Americans purchase health care insurance. Obamacare was the signature legislative achievement of former U.S. president Barack Obama.

Democrats point out that, while corporate tax cuts would be permanent, income tax reductions would be temporary.

“In 2021, families earning $30,000 [a year] and under are going to get clobbered by a tax hike of nearly $6 billion to pay for this handout to multinational corporations,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said. “By 2027, the news is even worse. Meanwhile, the big corporations are guaranteed a tax cut across the board.”

“We should be working together to cut taxes for the middle class, not taking health care away from millions just to give tax cuts to large corporations,” said Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

House Republicans passed a tax bill last week with votes to spare, despite receiving no backing from Democrats. With a slim Senate majority, Republicans can afford just two ‘no’ votes from their caucus if U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to overhaul the federal tax system is to survive.

“I’m fairly optimistic,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy at the Washington-based Cato Institute. “I think it [the odds of a tax bill becoming law] is 60-40 (percent), maybe even 70-30 (percent).”

Senate Republicans want to pass their tax bill next week. The House and Senate versions would then be merged into one bill the party hopes will reach President Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

“The chances of getting something done by the end of this year are no better than 50-50 (percent),” said Stan Collender, a former House and Senate Budget Committee staffer. “Yes, the House has already passed something, but what it passed is not acceptable to the Senate. It’s not clear whether the Senate will be able to pass anything, and if it does, it’s not at all clear that what it passes will be acceptable to the House.”

“If you look at the polls, Republicans aren’t doing so well,” said Jeremy Slevin of the progressive-leaning Center for American Progress. “The tax plan is polling at 25 percent [support], which is below almost every recent piece of major legislation. Regressive tax cuts are a really tough political sell.”

While taxpayers try to make sense of the legislation, Republicans and Democrats are making contradictory claims about its impact.

“They are both talking past each other,” Edwards said. “Republicans are talking about economic growth, which will benefit everybody. It’s of benefit to everyone if the GDP grows stronger, because in the long run wages will rise and incomes will rise. The Democrats are focusing more on specific mechanics – which particular group is getting the tax cut.”

Both the House and Senate versions would boost America’s $20 trillion national debt by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Some Republicans who have long favored cutting taxes are voicing concerns about America’s fiscal trajectory.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake tweeted that America “must lower [the] corporate tax rate” – but has also said, “With the national debt exceeding $20 trillion, we cannot simply rely on rosy economic assumptions [to boost revenue].”

Other Republicans see tax cuts as the key to the higher economic growth rates needed to improve America’s long-term finances.

“When people have more money, that helps grow the economy,” said Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

The United States enacted major tax cuts during the Reagan administration and twice during the George W. Bush administration, and tax cut proposals have generally been popular with the American people.

“Nobody wants to pay more in taxes,” Collender noted.

Even so, polls do not show a groundswell of support for current Republican tax plans.

“This package does not appear to be popular in polling,” said Justin King of the Washington-based New America Foundation, adding he wonders “whether that says something about anything put forward by President Trump and the Republicans at this point, or whether the broad appeal of [the message that] ‘we’re going to cut your taxes’ is waning.”

Passing a tax bill would fulfill a major pledge by President Donald Trump and give Republican lawmakers an accomplishment to tout going into next year’s mid-term elections.

“This bill may make all the difference, whether it passes or fails, whether there is a Democratic or a Republican House of Representatives in 2019,” Collender said.

Edwards notes that U.S. tax policy can have a ripple effect around the world.

“When the United States slashed its corporate tax rate in 1986, it launched a global revolution in slashing corporate tax rates,” he said. “Big trading partners with the United States like Canada and Britain went ahead [and cut] their corporate tax rates, as well. What the United States does will have a big effect [internationally].”

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Disney Star Jordan Fisher Wins ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Disney Channel star Jordan Fisher has been crowned the winner of “Dancing with the Stars” alongside partner Lindsay Arnold.

Fisher beat out violinist Lindsey Stirling and actor Frankie Muniz for the Mirrorball Trophy on the season 25 finale of the ABC reality competition Tuesday.

Fisher paid tribute to Arnold on Twitter after the announcement, writing: “There aren’t words to describe the feeling of going through BATTLE with my SISTER. Putting in all the time and effort and energy for 12 weeks, then to be rewarded for it after having the most incredible time?! Unbelievable.”

Fisher has starred in several Disney Channel series and films. He has also appeared on Broadway in “Hamilton.”

This is the first “Dancing with the Stars” title for Arnold.

 

 

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Suspected New York Bike Path Attacker Charged

A federal grand jury has returned a 22-count indictment against Sayfullo Saipov in the death of eight people killed during a truck attack on a bike path in New York City.

The Justice Department said Saipov was indicted Tuesday in a Manhattan federal court. He is charged with eight counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder, providing and attempting to provide material support to Islamic State, and violence and destruction of motor vehicles resulting in death.

Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant, was hospitalized after he was shot by a police officer. He was arrested after several people were run over by a vehicle Oct. 31 in a midday attack on a popular bike path.

“Consumed by hate and a twisted ideology, Sayfullo Saipov allegedly barreled down a pedestrian walkway and bicycle path on a sunny afternoon on the West Side of Manhattan, killing eight innocent people and injuring at least a dozen others,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the truck attack, which was the deadliest assault on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.

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Trump Indicates Support for Moore in Alabama Senate Race

U.S. President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday, saying the former state judge “totally denies” allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago.

“I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Moore’s opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Doug Jones, has a record that is “terrible on crime, it’s terrible on the border, it’s terrible on the military,” Trump said.

Trump said he would announce next week whether he will campaign on the Republican candidate’s behalf.

Moore’s campaign has been in turmoil since The Washington Post published a story detailing the accounts of three women who claimed he pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Three more women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Moore has adamantly rejected accusations of sexual abuse, but prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and two former presidential candidates, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have called for him to end his candidacy.

Trump, himself the subject of sexual abuse allegations during his 2016 presidential campaign, which he said were false, had said little about the accusations against Moore until Tuesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump thought it was “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

But earlier, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked whether the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

One of Moore’s accusers, Leigh Corfman, told NBC on Monday that it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself after the 1979 encounter she alleges she had with him.

Now 53, Corfman said she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” but that she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses; what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame.

“I met him around the corner from my house — my mother did not know — and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him, he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in the Post more than a week ago.

She told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Moore leads an expanding list of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct. On Monday, the website BuzzFeed alleged that longtime U.S. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, paid $27,000 to a woman who alleged that he’d fired her from his Washington staff after she rebuffed his sexual overtures.

Conyers, 88, at first denied the report, then on Tuesday he acknowledged the settlement, which he said he made to avoid protracted litigation. But he continued to deny he had sexually harassed the woman.

Ryan, the leader of the majority Republicans in the chamber, called the allegation “extremely troubling. People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination.”

Leaders of the House Ethics Committee said they were opening an investigation into the allegations, including whether Conyers had used official resources for impermissible personal purposes. Conyers said he would fully cooperate.

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