President Obama signed into law Friday a defense bill that authorizes $611 billion for the military in 2017, lauding provisions designed to sustain momentum fighting the Islamic State group, while harshly criticizing Congress’ insistence on keeping open a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The legislation provides a 2.1 percent pay hike for the military and sets spending priorities and guidelines for the current fiscal year. Funding for the programs comes in another spending bill.

Obama, while vacationing in Hawaii, said the bill provides vital benefits to military personnel and families. He also said it improves flexibility for government agencies in countering cyber-attacks and adversaries’ use of drones.

But he was highly critical of several other provisions. Among them, Obama cited the continued operation of the prison in Guantanamo. He said spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep fewer than 60 men in isolation undermines U.S. standing in the world and emboldens violent extremists.

“Unless the Congress changes course, it will be judged harshly by history,” Obama said.

–––

It could be a cold Christmas for more than 1,000 people in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula after a vehicle struck a natural gas line early Friday, causing an explosion and fire in Baraga County.

Baraga County Sheriff Rick Johnson said a vehicle swerved off U.S. 41, struck a Semco Energy gas line and sparked a fire at a utility substation in the L’Anse area on Lake Superior.

There were no injuries.

The L’Anse Fire Department extinguished the fire, but gas service to about 1,200 gas customers likely will be disrupted for two to three days while repairs are made, Johnson said.

–––

The parents of a 20-year-old college student who died in the arms of her boyfriend in Oakland’s deadly warehouse fire filed the first lawsuit Friday in the disaster, blaming the building’s owner, chief tenant and others.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, described the last moments of San Francisco State University student Michela Gregory, saying she was trapped on the second floor of the 10,000-square-foot building, which was a jumble of makeshift stairs and room dividers with no clear exit paths. The building plunged into darkness when the fire started.

Gregory was one of 36 people killed Dec. 2 when the fire broke out in the converted warehouse, hosting a music performance and party. It was the deadliest building fire in a decade in the U.S.

–––

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed the arrival Friday of a fleet of Uber self-driving Volvos delivered via a self-driving truck that transported them from California to the State Capitol in Phoenix.

Uber announced Thursday it was shipping the cars to Arizona after it was banned from driving them on California roads because of a lack of required permits.

Uber made the announcement after Ducey had promoted Arizona as an alternative to California for the ride-hailing company to test its self-driving cars.

Uber hasn’t said when the cars will be tested and provided no details about the number of vehicles in Arizona.

A volcano is erupting again in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reported that a Coast Guard vessel crew was in the area of the Bogoslof volcano Friday morning and saw an ash plume that lasted about an hour.

Volcanologist Robert McGimsey said the plume was estimated at below 30,000 feet.

He said Unalaska Island, about 61 miles from the volcano, is the closest populated area but winds blew ash away from inhabited areas.

The eruption prompted the observatory to again issue its highest alert level for aviation after the volcano’s eruptions earlier this week.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said airlines were rerouting flights around the plume.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.