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Crises forge Beshear’s role as Kentucky’s consoler in chief

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Crises forge Beshear’s role as Kentucky’s consoler in chief

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Derrek McIntosh was left homeless twice within weeks — first by floodwaters that destroyed his eastern Kentucky home, then when a fire burned down the house he stayed in with relatives.

Now that he’s moved into a temporary travel trailer, McIntosh said he no longer worries where he’ll lay his head at night. And the 34-year-old Republican gives the credit for that to a Democrat — Gov. Andy Beshear.

When flooding swept through parts of Appalachia in late July, McIntosh said, the governor moved quickly.

“I think he’s doing an awesome job,” McIntosh said.

Beshear’s first term in office has been dominated by one deadly crisis after another: the global COVID-19 pandemic, tornadoes that killed scores of people in western Kentucky in December and floodwaters in Appalachia that left dozens more Kentuckians dead. Through it all, Beshear has offered encouragement to victims, pledged to hold officials accountable for the federal response and dived into the details of the recovery process.

“This rebuilding process is going to be one of the most challenging the country has ever seen,” Beshear said during a recent stop in Hazard. “And I think we’re up to it. I saw this saying the other day. It was: God saves his toughest challenges for his strongest soldiers.”

If there’s a playbook for a Democratic politician navigating the treacherous politics of a ruby-red state, Beshear may have found it. The 44-year-old governor talks about his Christian faith, his stewardship of the state’s record-setting economy and the resilience of his fellow Kentuckians.

Beshear, who is seeking reelection to his second term next year, typically steers away from partisan politics.

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“Every time that we can put aside red or blue, D or R, and just focus on things that are good for our families, are the times that we jump in front of every other state that can’t do that,” the governor said recently at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual ham breakfast. “And I’m convinced that our job in state government isn’t to move the state to the right or to the left but to move it forward.”

Beshear’s approach has caught the eye of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who will chair the Democratic Governors Association in 2023. He said Beshear has an “unlimited ceiling” if the Kentuckian wins another term.

“He’s every bit as good as he seems,” Murphy said. “And he’s just an extraordinary leader and, by the way, knows how to get stuff done with the other side of the aisle.”

Other Democrats may find the formula hard to duplicate in places that haven’t faced the gauntlet of challenges Kentucky has — or if they lack his political pedigree. His father, Steve Beshear, was a popular two-term Kentucky governor from 2007 to 2015.

And while crisis management has marked the younger Beshear as a politician to watch since his election as governor in 2019, Republicans are lining up to challenge him in a state where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

The GOP holds both U.S. Senate seats, five of six congressional seats, every statewide office other than governor and lieutenant governor and supermajorities in the legislature.

“I think his personal image is right side up, but his party’s image is decidedly upside-down,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator and former adviser to President George W. Bush.

Following a strategy that catapulted the GOP to dominance in Kentucky, Republican contenders for governor hope to nationalize the race, in part by tying Beshear to the inflationary surge that caused President Joe Biden’s approval ratings to sag.

But Beshear’s appearances with Biden have come in the aftermath of natural disasters and only served to amplify Beshear’s role as a state-level consoler in chief as he focuses on helping people.

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He intends to make his management of the state’s economy a cornerstone of his reelection campaign. During his term, Kentucky has posted record highs for job creation and investments and record low unemployment rates.

Republicans, meanwhile, consistently remind Kentuckians of the restrictions Beshear imposed during the pandemic.

“Folks, just because we lived through a global pandemic doesn’t mean that our rights, our freedoms and liberties should be tossed out the window,” GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ryan Quarles said this summer at the Fancy Farm picnic, the state’s top political event.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, among the Republicans running for governor, led a legal fight against Beshear’s pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings, winning before the Kentucky Supreme Court. That cleared the way for the legislature to rein in the governor’s emergency powers.

But as Republican rivals at the picnic slammed his job performance, Beshear was across the state in the mountains, consoling families left homeless by the flooding.

The governor defends his pandemic-related actions, which he says reflected guidance from then-President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. More importantly, Beshear says, they saved lives.

For all his niceties, Beshear also has shown a fighter’s instincts — whether it’s on the campaign trail or in skirmishes over legislation.

He vetoed bills putting more restrictions on abortion and banning transgender girls and women from female sports teams, beginning in the sixth grade. Both were political risks in socially conservative Kentucky. Beshear also vetoed bills aimed at launching charter schools, phasing out individual income taxes and tightening rules for public assistance benefits. Republican lawmakers overrode all those vetoes and cite them as evidence that he’s out of touch.

“It shows that his beliefs are inconsistent with the beliefs of Kentuckians,” said state Auditor Mike Harmon, another GOP officeholder running for governor.

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But for some Republican voters, Beshear’s handling of epic natural disasters and his empathy for Kentuckians struggling to overcome tragedy matter more.

Timothy Carter, an eastern Kentucky coal miner and diehard Trump supporter, said Beshear has been there for flood victims.

“He’s gotten out and stomped right through the mud just the same as they have,” Carter said. “And when a lot of people see that, that brings a different respect. It’s an earned respect.”

In a region with deep affection for Trump, Carter and several others praised Beshear as they waited recently for their children to be fitted with donated shoes at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, one of several places Beshear designated as emergency shelters after the tornadoes or flooding.

During another visit there, Beshear comforted Pansy McCoy, who took refuge at the park after floodwaters swamped her home. She’s hit a snag in getting the help she needs.

“I just want my home,” she told the governor. “I just want a home.”

“We’ll work with you on that, OK?” Beshear said before connecting her with members of his team.

While McCoy expressed her appreciation for the governor, not everyone saw things that way.

Randy Johnson stayed outside the park lodge when the governor spoke to a crowd inside. Johnson said later that he’s been in limbo since his home was flooded, living at the park with his wife and grandchild and awaiting federal aid.

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“He sure let us down,” Johnson said. “I just don’t see nothing getting any better.”

But that wasn’t the prevailing view. McIntosh, the Republican who’s moved into a temporary travel trailer, said he’ll have no problem voting for the governor next year.

“I can’t believe he’s doing as much as he’s doing here,” McIntosh said, “trying to help all us eastern Kentuckians.”

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Associated Press writer Mike Catalini in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

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Follow AP for full coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

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Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.

Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”

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Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.

“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.

The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.

“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.

The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.

The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.

For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.

Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.

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In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.

Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.

The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.

The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.

The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.

“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”

President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”

In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.

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The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.

The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

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