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  • Winter blues 0, joyful color 1. Tulip growers in the Netherlands beat back winter — if only for a day — with a riotous explosion of color Saturday as they turned an Amsterdam square into a multi-colored feast for cold-dulled senses to mark National Tulip Day. Several thousand people converged on Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace to enjoy and pick the 200,000 free tulips, making gorgeous bunches for themselves from the rainbow of vibrant colors on offer. Each person was limited to 20 free flowers. Tulip growers helped visitors make their bouquets. National Tulip Day marks the opening of the tulip season for the Netherlands' flower industry. “I came with some of my friends and also my family just for this event, for the National Tulip Day, the start of the tulip season,' Fuschia Ramadhanti, a visitor from Indonesia, said. Flowers are a flourishing business in the Netherlands, the world's biggest tulip producer. The country annually grows between 1.7 and 2 billion tulips, which are exported to more than 100 countries worldwide. Horticultural products such as fresh flowers, bulbs and plants were the highest-value Dutch agricultural sector in 2019, worth 9.5 billion euros.
  • Thousands of St. Louis-area families were freed from a major financial burden thanks to a charitable effort that is increasingly popular among churches and other organizations trying to help the needy — eliminating medical debt. Money raised at more than a dozen United Church of Christ congregations and a donation from the St. Louis-based Deaconess Foundation wiped away nearly $13 million in medical debt for 11,108 families in St. Louis city and county. United Church of Christ officials and civic leaders announced details Saturday. The church was also sending letters this weekend to those whose debt was wiped out. Rebecca Turner, a pastor in Maplewood, Missouri, said that for many families, medical debt is “often so enormous that there is no way to repay it. Very often they lose their homes, their vehicles, their wages are garnished, and once that happens, it’s nearly impossible to get out of poverty. “It’s our prayer that for many of the families who receive this forgiveness of debt, it will be a fresh start,” Turner said. “We pray it gives them hope.” It is believed that more than 43 million Americans owe $75 billion in past-due medical debt. Hospitals and other health care organizations often write off bills deemed uncollectible, but they also sell the debt to collection agencies at a huge discount, often about 1 cent on the dollar. The collection agencies then make money by seeking payment from debtors who are often poor and lack adequate health insurance. The St. Louis-area congregations worked with RIP Medical Debt, a New York state-based nonprofit that buys medical debt and works with churches and charitable groups to pay it off. Thirteen United Church of Christ congregations raised $65,000 and the Deaconess Foundation, a UCC ministry that seeks to improve the health of the St. Louis-area needy, contributed $40,000. “We recognize access to health care is a persistent challenge for the 1 in 5 children living in poverty in the St. Louis region,” said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, CEO of the Deaconess Foundation. “Furthermore, medical debt is a drag on family stability and economic mobility for these families.” United Church of Christ performed a similar service in October in Chicago, using donations to clear $5.3 million in medical debt for 5,888 South Side families with average medical debt of $907 each. In December, a Los Angeles church, Christian Assembly, raised $53,000 to pay off $5.3 million in medical debt for nearly 6,000 households in Southern California. The Christian television network TCT, based in Marion, Illinois, wiped out about $2.5 million in medical debt from hundreds of families in southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. RIP Medical Debt spokesman Daniel Lempert said a $10 donation can buy and eliminate as much as $1,000 in delinquent debt. The organization has eliminated more than $1 billion in debt for more than 1 million beneficiaries, he said. Individual family debt forgiveness has ranged from $100 to more than $250,000, Lempert said.
  • Demonstrators in Berlin called for more environment-friendly agriculture practices at a protest Saturday in Berlin that included farmers with more than 150 tractors. Thousands of people gathered at the German capital's Brandenburg Gate for the protest under the motto “We've had enough.” The protest, an annual event over the past decade, coincides with a yearly agriculture and food fair in the German capital called International Green Week. Organizers said this year could “make or break the transition to sustainable, climate-friendly farming” and determine whether billions of euros in European Union subsidies “fund the transition towards sustainable farming or accelerate insect loss and climate change.” Supporters on Saturday included environmental and animal protection groups. The demonstration came days after two beekeepers staged a sticky protest outside Germany’s Agriculture Ministry against the continued use of a controversial herbicide. Germany, like other European countries, recently has seen protests by farmers complaining that planned new environmental limits are overly restrictive. In November, about 10,000 farmers with 5,000 tractors snarled traffic in Berlin, and the following month Dutch farmers and construction workers protested against government moves to cut pollution that they say hurt their businesses. Around 400 tractors drove into the capital on Friday in a similarly themed but much less disruptive protest. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet in September decided on a series of environmental proposals, including tighter restrictions on the use of pesticides and herbicides to protect insects and on fertilizers to protect groundwater. ___ Follow AP's full coverage of climate issues at: https://www.apnews.com/Climate
  • The Trump administration has granted Chevron a special license to keep drilling oil in Venezuela despite a ban on American companies doing business with President Nicolás Maduro's socialist government. The Treasury Department late Friday renewed until April 22 the license for Chevron and four other U.S. service suppliers that are among the last American companies operating in the oil-rich South American nation. It's the fourth time the U.S. has exempted the companies from the Venezuela ban. Chevron, a San Ramon, California-based company, has operated in Venezuela for almost a century. Its four joint ventures with Venezuela's state-run oil monopoly PDVSA produce about 200,000 barrels a day. That’s about a quarter of Venezuela’s total production, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Critics among Venezuela's opposition insist that Chevron's continued presence in the country undercuts the Trump administration's goal of ousting Maduro by providing him a valuable lifeline of badly-needed export dollars.
  • Germany's interior minister is suggesting that his country can't build a 5G mobile network without Chinese tech giant Huawei, at least for now, intervening in an issue that has caused tensions between the U.S. and its allies. Washington has been pressuring its allies to ban Huawei, the world's biggest supplier of telecom gear, from new 5G networks. It alleges that the company poses an espionage threat. Germany, however, has decided not to ban Huawei from competing for contracts to build the country’s 5G networks, instead agreeing that companies must meet strict standards, which still could end up excluding the Chinese firm. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Germany's top security official, was quoted Saturday as saying he is “against taking a product off the market just because there is a possibility that something might happen.” Seehofer said Germany must be protected against espionage and sabotage, but estimated that shutting out Chinese providers could delay building the new network by five to 10 years, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported. “I don't see that we can set up a 5G network in Germany in the short term without participation by Huawei,” Seehofer told the newspaper.

News

  • The father of the Florida man accused of killing his wife, three children and family dog, also had a history of violence, according to court records dating back 40 years. Robert Todt was convicted by a jury in 1980 for a murder-to-hire plot. It bears an eerie parallel to this week, when his son, Anthony Todt, told Osceola County detectives that he killed his wife, three children and family dog at their Celebration home, WFTV reported. Alan Rubenstein is now a judge in the same Pennsylvania community where he was an assistant district attorney in 1980, and prosecuted Robert Todt’s case. He said the Todts appeared to have a picturesque life. Neighbors had great things to say about Robert Todt, who was a special education teacher and wrestling coach at a Pennsylvania high school. Then, he was arrested for hiring one of his students to kill his wife, Loretta Todt, on March 19, 1980, at their Bensalem home, People reported. The student, John Chairmonte, pleaded guilty to his involvement, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1980. At the time, Chairmonte was characterized as a “burglar and a drug addict,” the newspaper reported in a Dec. 13, 1980, Inquirer story. “Who do you expect Bob Todt to hire to kill his wife, Donny Osmond?' Rubenstein told the newspaper. “A shot was fired right into her skull,” Rubenstein told WFTV on Friday. “It landed through her left eye and blinded her. She should’ve died, but, amazingly, she survived.” What originally seemed like a home invasion didn’t add up, Rubenstein said. “Then we did some background checking on (Robert) Todt,” Rubenstein told WFTV. “We found out about his being engaged to this woman while he was married, about his various girlfriends, the fact that he was having a relationship with one of his students.” When Robert Todt was convicted in 1981, “everybody was wailing, especially his family members and Loretta,” Rubenstein recalled. “The calmest person in the courtroom was Robert Todt.” Robert Todt served about 10 years in prison. Investigators said Anthony Todt was in the home when his mother was shot. A local newspaper reported he woke up to his mother’s screams. Many have described Anthony Todt as a loving father and husband, devoted physical therapist and soccer coach to neighborhood kids. Investigators said they found Anthony Todt’s family’s bodies Monday, but believe Todt killed them weeks earlier. The FBI is also investigating Todt for Medicaid fraud, and records show he was being evicted from their Celebration home.
  • Will moviegoers finally find out what’s on Page 47? That’s a possibility as reports of a “National Treasure 3” movie are beginning to circulate. Chris Bremner, who was tapped to write a “Bad Boys 4” movie, told The Hollywood Reporter he would be writing the screenplay for “National Treasure 3.” “National Treasure,” released in 2004, starred Nicolas Cage an amateur cryptologist Benjamin Franklin Gates. The movie pulled in $247 million worldwide for Disney, Variety reported. The cast, including Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel and Armando Riesc, returned for the 2007 sequel, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.' That film made $457 worldwide, Variety reported. The sequel ended with the characters looking at 'Page 47” of a secret book owned by the president of the United States, but no explanation was given. Jerry Bruckheimer is reportedly producing the upcoming film, People reported. Jon Turtletaub directed the first two films. A Disney spokesman did not respond to the magazine’s request for comment.
  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are no longer working members of the Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II announced Saturday in a statement. The Queen said the Sussexes “will continue to maintain their private patronages and associations.” The couple also will no longer formally represent the Queen, the statement said. 'Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much-loved members of my family, the Queen wrote. “I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.” The couple will forgo state funding and repay millions of taxpayer dollars used to refurbish their official residence in Windsor, The New York Times reported. The agreement will go into effect later this spring and will be reviewed by the palace after a year, the newspaper reported. “The Sussexes will not use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family,” according to the statement from Buckingham Palace. The agreement was made to end the crisis that began 10 days ago when the couple announced plans to step back from their royal duties and spend time in North America, the Times reported.
  • Odell Beckham Jr.'s legal problems might be behind him. The Superdome officer who was slapped on the rear by the Cleveland Browns wide receiver after LSU’s championship victory Monday has decided not to press charges, NOLA.com reported. A video of the encounter has gone viral. The website, citing several anonymous sources, said the 48-year-old officer had signed an affidavit saying he did not want to pursue legal action against Beckham, 27, who is from New Orleans and played for LSU. The New Orleans Police Department had obtained a warrant for Beckham’s arrest on a count of simple battery, WAFB reported. New Orleans police could rescind the warrant or continue to pursue it, NOLA.com reported. According to the website, the officer had ordered LSU players to put out celebratory cigars lit in the locker room. While talking with one player, the lieutenant said he was struck in the rear by a man who was identified as Beckham. The Browns issued a statement Thursday and said Beckham’s representatives “are cooperating with authorities to appropriately address the situation,” WAFB reported. Beckham has already come under scrutiny for reportedly throwing cash at players after the Tigers’ 42-25 victory against Clemson, potentially violating NCAA rules.
  • Professional wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson posted a loving tribute to his father, who died Wednesday. Rocky Johnson, who wrestled for 27 years and broke barriers for black wrestlers, died at age 75. Dwayne Johnson posted a long tribute on Instagram, along with a video. “I love you. You broke color barriers, became a ring legend and trail blazed your way thru this world,” Johnson wrote on Instagram. “I was the boy sitting in the seats, watching and adoring you, my hero from afar. The boy you raised to always be proud of our cultures and proud of who and what I am. The boy you raised with the toughest of love. The intense work. The hard hand. The adoring boy who wanted to know only your best qualities. Who then grew to become a man realizing you had other deep complex sides that needed to be held and understood. Son to father. Man to man. That’s when my adoration turned to respect. And my empathy turned to gratitude. Grateful that you gave me life. Grateful you gave me life’s invaluable lessons.” The elder Johnson was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, along with his former father-in-law -- and the Rock’s maternal grandfather -- Peter Maivia. Tony Atlas, who along with Rocky Johnson became the first black tag team champions in WWE history, also posted a tribute on Twitter. “We changed wrestling by paving a new path, knocking down doors while showing what movin’ n groovin’ is all about!” Atlas wrote.
  • Amazon said Saturday it will open another massive warehouse in metro Atlanta that will create 500 new jobs, part of an ongoing courtship of the e-commerce giant that spun out of Georgia’s attempt to land the company’s second headquarters.  The company said Saturday that the 1-million-square-foot facility — roughly the size of an average mall — will be built at the Cubes of Bridgeport site in Newnan. The facility’s employees will pack and ship customer orders for Amazon, the world’s largest retailer. Gov. Brian Kemp said Amazon’s announcement was a testament to Georgia’s “logistics infrastructure, top-ranked workforce and nationally recognized business climate.” The firm did not say when it expected the construction to be complete.  It’s the second major Amazon project for metro Atlanta in the past year. The company announced in July it would build a warehouse in Gwinnett County that would eventually employ 1,000 people, and construction is well underway.  The warehouse is part of a construction spree by Amazon to expand its shipping footprint. The company now operates more than 75 fulfillment centers in North America that employ more than 125,000 staffers, including 3,500 in Georgia.  State economic officials have grown familiar with the company after years of recruiting. Georgia offered billions in incentives and Atlanta made the short list for Amazon’s massive second headquarters before losing out to New York and Northern Virginia in November 2018. Documents released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that the state offered more than $2 billion worth of publicly funded incentives to lure the corporate campus, including an academy to train its employees and an exclusive lounge at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  Also in 2018, Amazon picked Nashville, Tennessee, for a new operations office where it plans to hire 5,000 workers. The company later scuttled its New York plans, briefly raising speculation that the Big Apple’s loss could be Georgia’s gain. But economic development officials were also focused on enticing the company to bring smaller projects to Georgia. Amazon operates several other fulfillment centers and warehouses in metro Atlanta, including East Point and Lithia Springs, and in other parts of Georgia, including Macon.  The warehouse project will make Amazon one of Coweta County’s largest private employers, joining other major firms such as Yamaha Motors and PetSmart, which also has a distribution center that employs about 500 people.  It’s not immediately clear what incentives were offered to Amazon to lure the project. An AJC review showed that nearly $20 million in tax breaks and infrastructure improvements were required to secure the Gwinnett project.  The company also did not immediately say how much it will spend on the site. Trae Westmoreland, head of the Coweta County Development Authority, said the “significant capital investment” will strengthen the local economy and help other firms bring in new business.