'Affluenza teen' Ethan Couch released from jail

April 2 (UPI) — A Texas man responsible for the deaths of four people in a drunk-driving accident five years ago was released from jail Monday, after serving two years.

Ethan Couch, dubbed the “Affluenza Teen” in news media for his defense’s argument, was released from a jail in Texas.

“Couch will now serve the remaining six years of his period of community supervision under the terms and conditions imposed by the court,” Couch attorneys Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn said in a statement. “From the beginning, Ethan has admitted his conduct, accepted responsibility for his actions, and felt true remorse for the terrible consequences of those actions.

“Now, nearly five years after this horrific event, Ethan does not wish to draw attention to himself and requests privacy so he may focus on successfully completing his community supervision and going forward as a law-abiding citizen.”

Couch, now 20, was given a 720-day sentence for violating his probation conditions set after the deadly 2013 accident.

Couch’s case gained national attention after a psychologist testified the then-16-year old’s inability to know right from wrong was a product of his affluent upbringing and irresponsible lifestyle.

Couch had a blood-alcohol content three times Texas’ legal limit when he hit two vehicles parked on the side of the road and a group of people standing nearby. He killed four and injured nine, including two passengers in his own truck.

The teen was sentenced to 10 years probation and was ordered to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Couch fled to Mexico with his mother after a video surfaced supposedly showing him drinking at a party, a possible parole violation. Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, were ultimately found in Puerto Vallarta after a two-week search.

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Boeing awarded $1.1B for Super Hornets for Kuwait

April 2 (UPI) — Boeing was awarded a contract from the U.S. Navy for production and services on F/A-18 Super Hornet variants for the government of Kuwait.

The deal, announced Friday by the Department of Defense, is valued at more than $ 1.165 billion under the terms of an undefinitized contract action.

The agreement enables Boeing to provide engineering services, along with radar warning receivers and aircraft armament equipment for the production and delivery of 22 F/A-18E Hornets and 6 F/A-18F Super Hornets.

Work on the contract will occur in multiple locations in the United States and is expected to be complete in September 2022.

More than $ 275.8 million will be obligated to Boeing at time of award from foreign military sales funds, the Department of Defense said.

The Pentagon says that none of the obligated funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

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Judge allows emoluments lawsuit against Trump to proceed

March 28 (UPI) — A judge allowed a case against President Donald Trump, accusing him of profiting from his Washington hotel while president, to proceed on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte rejected a Justice Department request to dismiss the case, in which the plaintiffs argue that Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by earning profits from the Trump International Hotel.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution states, in part, that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Critics say Trump is violating the clause and presenting a conflict of interest by not divesting himself of his businesses, including the Washington, D.C., hotel.

Watchdogs insist that Trump is violating the Constitution whenever his hotels or golf courses receive a payment from a foreign government. The ruling is a setback for Trump, who broke with precedent after his 2016 election by refusing to divest his businesses. He instead placed his assets in a trust, controlled by his two adult sons.

Messitte, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, sided with the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., who argued that the suit has merit, and they have standing to sue, because other local hotels must compete with Trump’s hotel.

“A large number of Maryland and District of Columbia residents are being affected and will continue to be affected when foreign and state governments choose to stay, host events, or dine at the Hotel rather than at comparable Maryland or District of Columbia establishments, in whole or in substantial part simply because of the president’s association with it,” Messitte wrote in his ruling.

The Justice Department may still seek to have the case rejected on other grounds.

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FARC offshoot blamed for kidnapping journalists in Ecuador

March 28 (UPI) — Assailants kidnapped two journalists and their driver in Ecuador’s northern Esmeraldas province near the border with Columbia, Ecuadorian Interior Minister Cesar Navas said.

A leader for a dissident offshoot of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, in Colombia, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings Wednesday.

Navas said the kidnappers took the three into Colombia shortly after the journalists passed a military checkpoint and were warned about dangers in the area.

Colombian military forces said the FARC offshoot, known as Residual Armed Group Oliver Sinisterra, was “without a doubt” behind the kidnappings. But Gen. Alberto Mejia said the military doesn’t have specific information to confirm the journalists were taken to Colombia.

“We are working one hundred percent at their area of influence, we have had combat battles with them, we have captured and demobilized people from their security ring, which informs us more about the operation of that group,” he told Colombian RCN Radio.

Officials are blaming violence in the area on Colombian rebels who have not agreed with FARC’s cease-fire agreement with the Colombian government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered a $ 54,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Walter Patricio Artízala Vernaza, an Ecuadorian leader of the offshoot group who is known as “Guacho.” He left FARC about a decade ago and describes himself as “an active guerrilla fighter.”

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Trump to visit Ohio to pitch $1.5T U.S. infrastructure plan

March 28 (UPI) — President Donald Trump is preparing to travel to northern Ohio to promote his ambitious, trillion-dollar plan to upgrade the nation’s roadways, airports and bridges, the White House said Wednesday.

The president’s speech — set for an audience of local workers at a Cleveland-area engineers’ training site in Richfield on Thursday — is billed as an opportunity for Trump to explain his vision for rebuilding America.

Trump’s infrastructure program is a key element of his agenda to improve the domestic economy. In February, speaking before a meeting of House, Senate and Cabinet members, he expressed optimism that Congress would approve the $ 1.5 trillion proposal.

The package calls for the repair and replacement of some U.S. highways, bridges and airports by committing $ 200 billion in federal funding over the next decade.

Grants to secure local and private funding account for $ 100 billion of the plan, and another $ 50 billion will be spent on rural needs, to be determined by each state. Another $ 20 billion is reserved for what the administration calls “technical assistance for bold, innovative, and transformative” measures intended to dramatically improve the national infrastructure.

Trump’s plan notably shifts much of the financial burden, normally assumed by the federal government, onto state and local governments, and private investors.

Ohio is an example of a state that assumed infrastructure burdens normally undertaken by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

During a conference call with reporters, a White House spokesman cited upgrades to Ohio’s Interstate 71 interchange, saying the state shortened the project approval time from a typical 64 months to 28 months.

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Russia vows to answer U.S. 'blackmail' over diplomats' expulsion

March 27 (UPI) — A day after the Trump administration closed a Russian consulate and ordered 60 Moscow diplomats out of the United States, Kremlin officials said Tuesday they won’t tolerate what they say boils down to political “blackmail.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrovon Tuesday called the U.S. decision, as well as similar moves by other Western governments this month, “a colossal blackmail campaign.”

“Rest assured, we will respond. The reason is that no one would like to tolerate such obnoxiousness and we won’t either,” Lavrov said. “When one or two diplomats are asked to leave this or that country, with apologies being whispered into our ears, we know for certain that this is a result of colossal pressure and colossal blackmail, which is Washington’s chief instrument in the international scene.”

The White House announced Monday it had ordered the Russian diplomats to leave — a response to the poisoning this month of a former Kremlin spy and his adult daughter in a British shopping district.

Before the U.S. expulsion, Britain ordered nearly two dozen Russian diplomats to leave. Germany followed by expelling four and Poland, Latvia and Lithuania each summoned Russian ambassadors in anticipation of additional expulsions.

On March 4, former spy and double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found unresponsive in a British shopping district. Later tests determined they had been attacked with a nerve agent. They have been hospitalized since.

Britain, Germany, France and the United States have all laid blame for the attack on the Russian government, with some claiming President Vladimir Putin ordered the poisoning himself. Moscow, though, has repeatedly denied involvement.

Tuesday, Russia’s ambassador to the United States criticized the White House for the timing of the expulsions — which came just hours after a fire at a shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo Monday that killed 64 people.

“On this grim day of tragedy in Kemerovo, we have seen official Washington stay emotionally deaf, indifferent and inconsiderate,” ambassador Anatoly Antonov said.

During Monday briefings, the White House issued condolences to the victims’ families.

“They have simply decided to make it even more painful. Well, gloat all you want,” Antonov said. “We shall not be provoked into an emotional outburst.

“But there will be a response.”

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